Introverts are not people who are a) shy or b) socially inept. Introverts are people who gain energy by being alone, and spend out energy when they are with other people. That means that no matter how much I as an introvert like my friends, after a while I need a break. This is a case when the “It’s not you, it’s me” line is actually true. It isn’t about others. It’s about me, and the fact that I need solitude – alone time, downtime – to recharge and be ready to go again.
Now at first glance it doesn’t seem like technology would be tough for an introvert, right? I mean, here’s this easy way to talk or arrange plans with people without actually being in the same room. Introverts can reach out to others but still be alone. A win for everyone!
Except that it’s not.
The two things that make technology so useful and amazing – information and connection – are also what make it draining for introverts. Here’s why.
Too Much Information to Handle
Information overload affects everybody, but introverts tend to want details and want to research something until they feel that they have a firm grasp on it. Of course, with the Internet at my fingertips, I can research a topic into infinity and still never get to the end of it.
There is always more information.
And I want the information. I want it all. I want it organized, categorized, saved, arranged, and ready for me to browse it at my leisure. I want to annotate it and then come back and read my annotations. I don’t want to skim; I want to really understand. I want to give all the sources a fair shake, sift through and find the ones that are acceptable, and then save and read them. Deeply. Quietly. Alone.
Always Connected, Never Alone
On one hand, technology means I can make plans with my friends without (gag) having to be on the phone.
On the other hand, technology means that anyone, at anytime, can ding, beep, buzz, or otherwise intrude into my solitude. Texting, email, and social media create communication lines that are constantly on, constantly open. And that constant connectivity means that even when I am alone, at any moment I could find that aloneness broken. I can ignore it, but the solitude is shattered.
Short of just turning all the devices off, what can we do? I want to be reachable, and sometimes I need to be available. I do like my friends, I just need my solitude.
Here are a few tips for handling tech – not withdrawing from it – but using it in a way that works for your introverted self.
1. Reduce the number of inputs in your life.
Every app you add to your phone adds another means of disruption. Why have so many? Do you really need your calendar, your Facebook notifications, and your task manager to tell you that it’s somebody’s birthday? Eliminate what you can, and close those open loops in your brain. Choose the social channels you like best and ignore the rest. This helps you reduce the mental overload of constant notifications. It also cuts down on redundancy. If you’ve heard the news or update from one source, why do you need to hear it again? Short answer: you don’t. Cut out the inputs that irritate you, and stick to using the ones you like.
2. Guard your downtime.
Guard it like a jealous Mama Bear. Why? Because you need it. The whole world is a better place when you’ve had some alone time, so make it happen by removing all the ways you could be interrupted. That means: leave your phone at home when you go for a jog (or if you want it for safety, turn the notifications off). Take a walk with it silenced. Read a book with all the tech turned off. Get a massage, take a bath, work in the garden, sit in the corner and sob over the stupidity by which you are surrounded everyday … You know, whatever your solitary thing is, do it in true solitude by closing those open doors for a while. Otherwise you don’t get the benefit of that downtime, you just get frustrated. Be careful about tech at night, too; a lot of interaction, even the digital kind, can set your brain spinning right when you need it to be winding down. Value yourself enough to get a decent night’s sleep.
3. Don’t set a standard of instant reply.
I usually silence all the notifications on my phone in the morning while I’m working. Sometimes I forget to turn them back on, and five hours later I check my phone to see 25 texts and 12 missed calls and 200 emails. The first few times this happened, I felt terrible and sent responses out with a big, “So sorry, I forgot to turn my sound on …” disclaimer. A funny thing happened, though. Nobody cared. They all have lives. They’re busy with stuff. So the fact that I didn’t immediately answer every tweet or text they sent wasn’t the end of the world for them.
For the few who did mind, my apology was sufficient, and now they’ve come to expect slow responses from me sometimes. They know that I shut things down when I need to focus or be alone. They know that I care. They know that I’ll answer when I’m ready to be back on, plugged in. And you know what? They all survive until then, just fine. They key here is to have enough confidence in your friends that you will let them learn how you use your technology instead of feeling obligated to fulfill their expectations.
4. Don’t let unsettled things linger.
Do set your own standards. Yes. But don’t procrastinate when you need to respond to something, because it will just eat away your brain space until you’ve dealt with it. Whether it’s a work or personal matter, if there is some unresolved thing that needs to be resolved, do it as soon as possible. One sure thing that drains introverts more than interaction is the anticipation of it. Especially if there’s any sort of tension or unfamiliarity involved. If you’re ready to shut things down for a while and have some downtime, great. But don’t do it if your mind keeps meandering back to that important email you didn’t answer, or that friend’s text you ignored. Respond first so your brain can stop planning, analyzing, anticipating. Then go have that downtime.
5. Come up with a central organization system.
All the information needs a place to go. Set one up that will give you security in knowing that your information is there when you’re ready for it. I use a combination of Evernote and Dropbox, but there are plenty of options out there. Make sure that whatever you choose is secure, has some sort of automatic backup, and is accessible via the device(s) you use most often. This will allow you to dump all the research, articles, books, references, and whatnot in there, knowing that it’s safe, and you can forget about it until you have time to come back with your full attention.
Are you an introvert? What are your tips for using tech and staying connected without being irritated or overwhelmed? Let us know in the comments.
Featured photo credit: B Rosen via flickr.com
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