by Taslim Jaffer
I scanned the dining area of the dimly lit restaurant, but didn’t see anyone that I recognized. This wasn’t surprising; I was one of dozens of people on the guest list at my friend’s 40th birthday party, but I only knew a handful. As an introvert, I was fine making my way to a table at the back, smiling politely at those who made eye contact, and enjoying the company of my own thoughts until someone I knew showed up.
The birthday girl and her sisters arrived shortly after me. After introductions were made, I struck up a conversation with one of her sisters, who I learned was an avid traveller. I was preparing for my first big overseas trip, and was happy to get some tips from someone more experienced.
Quickly, I dove deep into the reasons why I was journeying back to my birthplace and eventually found myself in that awkward space of being at a large, loud party and monopolizing one person’s time in a deep conversation. I recognized that I had skipped the small talk (which introverts find exhausting) and was baring my soul to a perfect stranger.
My thoughts ping-ponged between, “Stop it, Taslim, you’re being weird” and “But this could be a great conversation.” In the end, I let the poor woman mingle with her family and friends and then breathed a grateful sigh when my friend’s husband – a fellow introvert – approached and asked if I was reading anything good. I mean, who doesn’t love a twenty-minute discussion about the merits and deficits of a current read while at a party?
My life as an introvert has always included being on the lookout for the perfect kind of company. This might sound counter-intuitive – aren’t introverts supposed to shun people? That is a common misconception. It’s not people, necessarily, we avoid. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking defines introversion as, “people who prefer quieter, more minimally stimulating environments.” I’ve never been drawn to big groups of loud people; instead, my radar alerts me to the quiet, thoughtful ones. That’s not to say we aren’t a fun bunch. I love being with people who make me laugh. Being introverted does not equal being somber and boring. It simply means I crave authentic connections – and keeping up with anything beyond that is tiring and unfulfilling.
In this digital age, when texting is the norm, and communication largely happens via social media, real connections are lost. For an introvert who prefers an intimate gathering space as well as peace and quiet to recharge, social feeds can be an assault. Christina Crook, co-founder of JOMO Digital Mindfulness Retreats and author of The Joy of Missing Out, explains why the information highway is lacking. “It turns out we need more than information to make meaning. Human connection in real time – the eye contact, the social cues, though sometimes intimidating for the introvert – is what our hearts long for most. ‘Going there’ – going deep fast, as introverts tend to do, is a survival mechanism.”
So, how do we honour our need for quiet and minimally stimulating environments in a digital world? And how do we make meaningful connections when we have become accustomed to keeping our heads bent over our phones?
Check out the rest of Taslim’s story, including 5 tips on how to make social connections as an introvert in the digital age, in our July/August issue – available on stands now (P. 20), or you can read the full story online here.