Sunday, August 08, 2010

Myers-Briggs, Culture Wars, and the Avant-Garde

In the process of reading The Introvert Advantage, a few facts converged in my mind:
  • Extroverts outnumber introverts 3 to 1 in the general populace.
  • The science, space, and engineering communities that I support (as a semi-extroverted introvert, I'll note) are dominated by introverts.
  • My extroverted friend Darlene the Science Cheerleader has been fighting against stereotypes and for broader public participation in science- and technology-related debates.
  • Awhile back, I wrote an article about the arrival of professionals (i.e., extroverted marketing types) into the space advocacy business.
It has since occurred to me that the "two cultures" identified by C. P. Snow in the early 1960s were misidentified. The war might not be between cultures but between temperaments: between the introverts and the extroverts.

Consider a few side effects of being introverted:
  • Natural quietude and deep (internalized) thinking.
  • A tendency to focus deeply on topics of personal interest, often in compensation for social awkwardness.
  • A tendency to believe, often rightly, that others don't understand you or your interests.
The result of these introverted tendencies is a long-running snobbery by introverted and technically minded individuals against generally socially minded extroverts. This snobbery is not limited to the science or engineering worlds, however; introverted artists often exhibit pessimistic or depressive outlooks and tend to look down on optimistic extroverts (e.g. cheerleaders).

What, then, is the "culture war" or "temperament war" about? I think it has to do with influence, power, and money. There are many, many more extroverts than introverts, yet introverts often monopolize the cultures of high technology and the arts, which generate much of the wealth in this country. The majority wants a piece of the action.

That is why "geek" is now more chic.

That is why fantasy, science fiction, and comic book-based movies are now the big money makers in Hollywood.

That is why the shape of space exploration is shifting toward a more participatory activity.

That might be why we have our first nerd President.

"Geek" might be chic, but the extroverts are taking over, and they now want their say on issues which, up to now, were controlled by introverts because they were the only ones with enough interest to pay attention to them.

So what will be the end result of this invasion of the introverts' domain by extroverts? Speaking as a moderately extroverted introvert, if I had to guess I'd say that as "geek space" becomes more mainstream, the introverts will move on to other, even more esoteric interests, ideas, art forms, and technologies.

Introverts might not say much, but they do keep the avant-garde moving steadily onward, continually pushing the boundaries of the human experience. So the "war" won't be won or lost. Instead, the introverts will simply move the battle lines somewhere they can get a little peace and quiet. As with anything avant-garde, by the time the avant-garde has become mainstream, the frontier has already moved on, simply because introverts hate crowds.

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