Hello, my name is Joi, and I’m a textrovert.
You all know the textroverts: the people who are shy and retiring at parties, who can happily go a week without making a phone call, but who are constantly on Facebook and Twitter, sharing insights, jokes, and random links to things they find interesting. I freely confess, that’s me. Ever since I got internet access at age 13, I’ve lived a secret life online, the life of a textrovert.
Let me stop for a moment and explain what I mean by “textrovert.” A textrovert is an individual who is an introvert in “real life” but functions as an extrovert online. Not all introverts are textroverts: many introverts can go weeks or months without logging into Facebook or Twitter, and some eschew the internet altogether.
Ever since Freud and Jung, society has operated on the assumption that there were two general personality types: the introvert and the extrovert. Freud and Jung disagreed about the function of introverts (Freud thought introversion was unhealthy, Jung concluded that it was simply a different way of interacting with the world), but the two types seemed like a good way to begin to understand differences between people.
Then came the internet. Introverts rejoiced: at last, a widespread instant communication system that didn’t involve talking! Perfect! For the first time since the invention of the telephone, communication could happen predominantly in text-based media. And something funny began to happen. Some people began to think of the internet as their natural sphere of activity, and the textrovert was born. (A side note: textroversion is not new, we’re simply seeing a resurgence of it. History is full of people who were more comfortable writing letters than talking.)
Why are textroverts more comfortable online than in ordinary settings where they can interact with others? There are several reasons. The first is that social media circles tend to be somewhat self-selecting. Even on Twitter, people mostly talk with others who have similar interests. This is solid gold for introverts: we tend to love talking about our interests and hate talking about things we find boring. It’s why we dislike small talk. (On Facebook, the textrovert can even block certain posts from being seen by those who only want to chime in with inane small talk—this might be thought a little rude, but it’s a sanity-saver for introverts and textroverts alike.)
Secondly, textroverts can control their online identity. There’s no need to reveal too much of one’s self too soon. If an introvert doesn’t feel like defending her interest in Greek tragedy or My Little Pony or Blade Runner, she doesn’t have to. It’s up to the textrovert to decide when, where, and to whom to open up.
Finally, social media has a built-in delay. No matter how quick you are at texting or tweeting, it takes a few seconds. No introvert likes having to respond immediately. We need a moment to collect our thoughts, to try to find the best way to express what we think. Offline, this usually means that while we try to decide what we think, why we think it, and how to say it, an extrovert has already jumped in with a response. Online, we have those moments to reflect, and it’s much easier to say what we want, when we want, in the way we want.
You probably know at least one textrovert: you’ve probably wondered why the person who tries to blend in with the wallpaper at parties can’t seem to shut up on Twitter! Here are a few tips for caring for your textrovert.
- Give them time to spend online. They’re not being rude, they’re just spending time in a place they are comfortable. You won’t do a textrovert any favors by telling them to get offline just because you think they’re lonely or being reclusive.
- Hop online and participate in a few of your textrovert’s circles. You don’t have to interact with them on every social media platform (in fact, they may consider that a bit suffocating), but try one or two of them. Talk to your textrovert’s friends: you may find new friends yourself!
- Remember that the textrovert is in no way abnormal, weird, or in need of “fixing.” Just because your friend has tweeted 2,000 times in the last month and only made 3 phone calls doesn’t mean they have become a sociopath. Like introverts and extroverts, textroverts simply interact with the world in different ways.
- Don’t assume that the textrovert only wants to interact online. Even the strongest of textroverts needs to disconnect once in a while. Invite the textrovert to go for a walk, or get a cup of coffee, or just hang out at a park watching people. As long as there’s no undue pressure to accept, most textroverts will appreciate their offline friends’ efforts to stay connected.