But our online gadgets have arguably enhanced the social lives of one large swath of the population: the introvert.
Introverts are often brimming with thoughts and care deeply for their friends, family and colleagues. But even the most socially skilled introverts (of whom there are many) sometimes long for a free pass from socializing en masse or talking on the phone. This is what the Internet offers: the chance to connect — but in measured doses and from behind a screen.
When I was researching my book, QUIET, I noticed that many of the introverted academics I corresponded with were much warmer via e-mail than when we finally met in real life. The keyboard and screen allowed them to express their caring and friendly natures.
Similarly, when you’re blogging or tweeting, you don’t have to wade through small talk before you get to main point. You have time to think before you speak. You can connect, one mind with another, freed from the distractions of social cues and pleasantries — just the way readers and writers have done for centuries.
It’s all true. The Internet was a godsend for freaks and geeks and autism-spectrum types who enjoy communication in its most abstract, Platonic ideal form. If you made my acquaintance in everyday life, you would probably assume, as many have, that I am either rude, mute, mentally retarded, or incredibly boring; nothing at all like the gregarious, delightful, life-of-the-party motherfucker I am here. Let idiots like Nicholas Carr flap their hands and squawk about what the Internet is doing to their brains; for those of us in question, it’s been a social flowering and an intellectual renaissance, and we resent being pulled away from it to endure the quotidian idiocies of life among our neighbors. Which makes this sort of interesting:
JH: Obama is an unusual politician. There are very few people in American politics who achieve something — not to mention the Presidency —in which the following two conditions are true: one, they don’t like people. And two, they don’t like politics.
KC: Obama doesn’t like people?
JH: I don’t think he doesn’t like people. I know he doesn’t like people. He’s not an extrovert; he’s an introvert. I’ve known the guy since 1988. He’s not someone who has a wide circle of friends. He’s not a backslapper and he’s not an arm-twister. He’s a more or less solitary figure who has extraordinary communicative capacities.
…I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know what the root of that is. People have theories about it. But I know in practice he is a guy who likes to operate with a very tight circle around him, trusts very few people easily or entirely. He ran his campaign that way in 2008, he runs his White House that way, and he’s running his campaign that way in 2012. President Obama just doesn’t talk to too many people.
My default assumption is that you have to be at least a borderline sociopath to actively seek power over hundreds of millions of people to begin with, but to do it when you don’t actually enjoy the job or the people you ostensibly serve? Maybe he’s a masochistic sociopath.