Are you an introvert or an extrovert? There are a lot of misconceptions about what the terms actually mean. For instance, I once saw a dictionary definition of "introvert" as "self-centered"! No, wrong.
Perhaps oddly, introverts tend to understand extroverts better than the other way around. Extroverts are more likely to consider themselves "normal" and to think there's something wrong with introverts. There isn't, of course. Both are perfectly normal (although introverts are probably in the minority).
The best sign of which one you are is to ask yourself which condition more easily tires you out and makes you feel you need relief: solitude, or socializing? Introverts expend energy when they're part of a crowd and "recharge their batteries" when they're alone. For extroverts, it's the opposite. But this doesn't mean that extroverts avoid being alone or that introverts don't like people. Surprisingly, it doesn't really predict how "outgoing" someone is. Introverts can be quite social, and extroverts can need "alone time." What's telling is which one has a "limit" for you. The extrovert gets uncomfortable after too much time alone and begins to crave the company of people, and the opposite is true for the introvert: their tolerance for socializing has a limit, and after they've had enough of it they tend to need to get away.
Either type can get too much of a good thing, which is why introvert/extrovert pairs can make good couples: they balance each other out, each moderating the other's natural tendency and helping the other in the situations that are less natural for them.
What's your impulse when you receive a shock like some traumatic bad news? Introverts tend to reflexively seek some alone time in order to "process." I got some bad news yesterday and I went for a long drive alone. Extroverts tend to immediately seek comfort in company and companionship.
You can be a "strong" or "weak" introvert or extrovert. Strong introverts are exhausted by moderate social activities and, even when they spend a lot of time alone, might crave even deeper solitude. Strong extroverts have an endless appetite for people, crowds, or parties, and tend to want companions constantly, for any kind of activity.
It has nothing to do with character strengths or flaws. (Either type can be selfish!) Nor does it predict success. Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, and Warren Buffet are (or were) introverts. Bill Clinton, Mark Twain, and Steve Jobs are examples of successful extroverts.
You might think this has nothing to do with photography, but how we relate to the world and other people has a lot more to do with photography than even cameras do. LIFE magazine's Alfred Eisenstaedt was an unusually strong extrovert, which might seem to make good sense given that he was a great photographer of people. He could make anyone comfortable instantly; Jackie Kennedy Onassis, who had her issues with photographers, adored him. But Ansel Adams was an extrovert too. Diane Arbus, a strong introvert, photographed people. Walker Evans was introverted too.
Ever since I studied August Sander in school I've realized that some photographers project themselves on to their subjects. Sander approached his subjects with an attitude that elicited a very consistent response from them; it's not hard to imagine them "reflecting" him back at his camera, in a sense. I don't know, but I suspect he was an introvert who used photography to connect with people—to give structure to his limited socializing. That's just supposition. In any event, how you approach your subjects can have a lot to do with how you relate to the world, and how you relate to the world has a lot to do with how you like to be.
"Open Mike," TOP's editorial page, appears on Sundays, at least when Mike can drag himself away from the pool table.
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Featured Comments from:
Craig A. Lee: "That definition of introvert, maybe even strong introvert, is me to a capital 'T.' I find my day job exhausting just because of the energy I need to expend to maintain the social interactivity. When I get home, I really do have to crash and 'recharge' with some alone time. Additionally, I can only attend parties or similar events for a certain amount of time before I have had my fill of it.
"As for how it relates to my photography...well, I like landscapes, architecture, nature, and abstracts. I am not much of a people photographer with the exception of sports. For some reason I do enjoy photographing sports and people in action even though I am not much of a sports fan either. Perhaps it is because I don't have to socially interact with the subjects in those situations. They are, in essence, an active landscape to me."
LJ Slater: "Were you reading Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking? I enjoyed her 'graph' visualization: she placed the introvert/extrovert spectrum on the x-axis, and the shy/outgoing spectrum on the y-axis (and it is important to remember that it is a spectrum, not simply a series of compartments, or 'boxes' that we must place ourselves in). I am a dyed-in-the-wool shy introvert. My brother is both extremely shy and extremely extroverted. My father? Very introverted, but not shy in the least!"
Semilog: "Great post. My wonderful wife and I are a classic introvert/extrovert pair. I'm the introvert. Last night I watched the great documentary War Photographer, about James Nachtwey. Nachtwey appears to have the characteristics of a serious introvert."
Ahem: "That reminds me of a joke about Finns reportedly told abroad (I'm Finnish). For the unitiated: Finns are notoriously shy and introverted.
Q: How do you tell a Finnish extrovert apart from a Finnish introvert?
A: Finnish extrovert looks at your shoes when he talks to you."
Joe Holmes: "This new understanding of introverts/extroverts, or at least the recent dissemination of the understanding, has really been liberating. I fall into the introvert camp, but I never would have classed myself that way because I love socializing and I can be pretty good at it. It's just that it's draining. And now I have a great explanation of why, at big gatherings like Thanksgiving dinners, I find myself taking a breather after a couple of hours."