Just like if you’re an introvert you must be shy, or misanthropic, or quiet. Right?
Yeah, right… not so fast. Even though we’ve started to clear the air about what it really means to be an introvert, there are still lingering stereotypes that deserve to be squashed.
And as I’m about to share, I’m not immune to perpetuating an image of introverts that isn’t quite accurate.
Just when I thought I’d covered my bases when it came to stereotypes, BOOM. Someone called me on one I missed.
That someone was Jonathan Rauch, author of the wildly popular 2003 article, “Caring For Your Introvert.” When it was published in The Atlantic more than a decade ago, it gave a voice to introverts who finally felt seen and understood.
I recently interviewed Jonathan for my podcast (watch for it to be posted on April 17), and one my questions centered on a comment he made in a 2006 follow-up interview about the aforementioned article. He said, “I do think that there’s been, in the last ten years or so, a major economic resurgence for introversion—the ‘geek’ economy.” I extrapolated from that that he was equating introversion with geekiness. Perhaps back in 2006, he was. But my interpretation was turned on its head during our conversation.
Jonathan reminded me that “geek” is just another stereotypical label that we put on people, and those people are disproportionately introverts. Extroverts can be geeks, just like introverts can be non-geeks. He’s absolutely right!
There’s nothing wrong with being a geek, just as there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. But why do we still tend to collapse introverts and geeks in our minds? Where does the introvert=geek label come from? Here’s my best guess:
Geeks often immerse themselves in a particular activity. When we say we’re “geeked out” on something, we usually mean we’re totally into a particular person, place, idea or interest. We know everything about it, or we’re able to talk about it endlessly. We go deep rather than broad on the topic.
The word “geek” has often been applied to someone who likes to read or study. Geeks can be smart, at least about a particular subject, and sometimes, about more than one subject. If you’ve ever chosen to read your book instead of go out with the gang, you’ve probably been called a geek (or a nerd, which according to Urban Dictionary is very different, but I’m not going to split hairs here).
And finally, geeks are often portrayed in television, books and movies as being socially awkward or wallflower types. Their obsession with their interest leaves little time for cultivating social graces or small talk skills.
The way our extrovert-oriented society sees introverts is much the way they see geeks: subject- or self-absorbed, socially inept book worms who don’t know how to have Fun with a capital E(xtrovert).
So you can see why the descriptors “geek” and “introvert” are sometimes used interchangeably. And it’s interesting that the popularity of geeks (“The Big Bang Theory,” techies as celebrities, for example) has paralleled the rise of introverts as being cool. We’re so cool, in fact, I’ve heard some introverts say, “I wish everyone would stop talking about us!” Now that people know more about us, we’re not as mysterious. We’re not as able to stay in the background, because everyone’s shining the spotlight on us.
But I digress… the bottom line is that a stereotype is a type of shorthand that quickly communicates a set of commonly understood – and misunderstood – traits about a person. And there’s often a grain of truth in stereotypes. But we are all much too complex and multidimensional to be typecast in such simplistic ways. Just as we’re working to bust the stereotypes about introverts, I think we’re all called to do our part to dismantle (or at least not perpetuate) stereotypes of other groups: extroverts, freaks and geeks alike.
What do you think? Do you identify as an introvert AND a geek? What are some of the introvert stereotypes that most need to go away? Please share in the comments!