It’s a Profitable Time to Be an Introvert
In general, globalization, financialization, and the rise of tech have favored certain personality traits above others
The sorts of people who like to quantify human behavior argue that you can boil most personality traits down to five factors that are both measurable and predictable: OCEAN, which stands for openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. It’s a frustratingly compact model; it is an easy shorthand, but it’s also annoying to think that most of what makes you special can be described by a quintuple.
The world is increasingly run by people who have unconventional thoughts and don’t talk a lot.
But it’s a good model for generalizing about broad swaths of the population, so let’s use it. The trends of globalization, financialization, and the increasing importance of the tech industry have favored certain traits above others: It’s a very good time to be high-openness and low-extraversion. Conscientiousness matters less than it used to; calendar alerts and cron jobs mean that anyone who can afford a smartphone and a computer can simulate being extremely on-the-ball. Agreeableness means less when more interactions happen through screens and at scale. And high neuroticism is also less of a drawback when there are fewer bystanders to deal with it.
This shift means that it’s increasingly important to understand the high-openness/low-extraversion experience. The world is increasingly run by people who have unconventional thoughts and don’t talk a lot, so it behooves everybody else to learn how they tick.
Here’s one thing I’ve noticed about these introverts: The trait seems to be mediated by being unmoored from context. There are some conversational gambits that dump all the context at once (“What’s the square root of 529?”) and some that assume lots of context (“What’s new?”).
People vary a lot in their ability to pick up on unstated context, which is my way of saying that I’m very bad at it. Take a question like “Where are you?” This can have many context-dependent interpretations, from “How long will…