You’re Probably Not an Introvert (or an Extrovert)
Statistics, psychology, and the limitations of identity labels
We love using labels. Star Wars fans label themselves based on which fictional characters they envision dating each other. Left-wing activists derisively label one another based on whether they prefer a state-driven version of communism or a more anarchist one. Queer people create labels for highly specific gender and sexual identities we possess, giving voice to experiences that were silenced for centuries. Armchair psychologists label public figures they dislike with mental illness diagnoses — Narcissism, Munchhausen’s, Alzheimer’s.
People on the internet also take personality tests — lots of them — and gleefully adopt the labels those tests spit out. Since the ’90s, the web has been rife with psychometric tests and quizzes, which vary widely in their sincerity and validity. Are you a Monica or a Ross? Are you open to new experiences? Are you a Hufflepuff or a Ravenclaw? Are you a sociopath?
From this endless pile of measures, one has consistently emerged as the most popular: the Introversion-Extroversion Scale. If you’ve been on the internet long enough, you’ve taken some version of this quiz. And if you’re on the internet a lot, well, odds are the test labeled you as an introvert.
There are a lot of proud introverts on the internet. Facebook groups and subreddits provide spaces for introverts to gather (quietly) and find common ground. Introvert-themed meme pages on Instagram and Tumblr provide an outlet for venting about how annoying and brash extroverted people can be. Blog posts and Twitter threads about the frustrations of introverted people get shared widely, speaking to the alienation and overwhelm that thousands of self-identified introverts feel. In the wake of Covid-19, many introverts are proudly declaring that they are well-suited for shelter-in-place, and have a lot to teach their more extroverted, stir-crazy friends.
However, I expect that as the days of social distancing wear on, more and more self-labeled introverts will start finding they have a ton in common with their supposedly more outgoing friends. By the end of isolation, which could last anywhere from six weeks to…