Questions: Are Social Tools Making Introverts into Extroverts?

Energy Inside or Out

Today in a telephone conversation with @PJMcGuire, we talked about how people see us and who we are. She mentioned that she had called herself a “people person,” and someone she works with said, “No, you’re more than that, you’re a traditional extrovert. You get your energy from other people.”

I’ve always found the differences between introverts and extroverts to be fascinating — mostly because each group seems to think that the other is flawed. Even those of us who don’t know or don’t understand the basic difference between the two groups seem to think that there is a right way to respond. Meaning another way must be wrong.

Introverts renew their energy by going inside themselves. When they’re bearing stress, they seek to be alone to find comfort and solve problems. Other people’s energy drains their reserve. Introverts are less likely to seek stimulation from others because their own thoughts and imagination are stimulating enough.

Extroverts refuel by being with other people. When the house falls in, they want to talk it out. Hearing themselves talk is how they solve problems. When they’re with other people they get recharged. Extraverts (also spelled extroverts) tend to be gregarious, assertive, and interested in seeking out excitement.

Are Introverts Becoming Extroverts on the Social Web?

Dr. Mike Wesch said, “The media mediates relationships.” As we lose context, we reach out for community. Research shows that younger generations are more extroverted.

It’s not fully understood why some people are introverts and others extroverts. The ratio is changing over time. CPP (formerly Consulting Psychologists Press) is the publisher of the Myers-Briggs assessment and has testing data going back 50 years. It plans to release research showing younger generations are becoming increasingly extroverted. Those born before 1964, including baby boomers, are split about 50-50 between introversion and extroversion, but 59% of Generation X (born 1965-81) are extroverted, as are 62% of Millennials (born after 1981). —Not all successful CEOs are extroverts

I interviewed bloggers daily for over a year. It became clear within a short time that the bloggers I spoke with overwhelmingly described themselves as independent introverts. That seemed to make sense then. Blogging is a writing task that requires reflection. Now I wonder whether that was then and the folks who chose to participate.

Now I see the changes in myself and some of those interviewees as I look across the web. It took me a long time to get to Twitter, but now … beware following me. I tweet a lot when I’m there.

Many of us have been slow to adopt Twitter then become very chatty as we get comfortable there.

People see me as an extrovert, but I’m not. I’ve heard the same from blogger friends. I understand why people think so. I look around and wonder … are the tools making us extroverts or just making us seem so? Are we introverts or have we become something different in this context?

Are introverts becoming extroverts on the social web?

Can we really think of it as being extroverted if we’re not actually WITH other people?

Is it possible for an introvert to become an extrovert — changing energy source from inside to out?

–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz!!


  1. says

    Fascinating to think about. People who are strong within and happy within themselves have intrapersonal intelligence. I’ve noticed that they are often altruistic and giving to others because they aren’t needy psychologically. I sense web 2.0 has helped them to share a lot more of themselves.

    On the other hand, if an introvert is needy and looking to others for happiness and fulfillment then these folks often act as extroverts to fill their needs. Such folks may be very interpersonally intelligent, but lack intrapersonal strengths. I think you have mentioned these types of people in past. The ones who only toot their horns, act arrogantly, and “take” without ever “giving.”

  2. says

    Hi Liz.

    When I’m in a crowd, I’m usually listening. Sometimes formulating a thought around what’s being said. And just as often keeping it to myself because the topics change so quickly and I’m juggling and trying to sort them in my head. I go home tired but happy.

    If I’m the center of interest in a group and I’m prepared for the topic of discussion, I’m quite comfortable. (Put on the spot — like being handed the mic the first time — not so comfy.) In the moment I’m energized, but when I go home (back to my room, any quiet personal space) I realize I’m exhausted.

    My best friend of 46 years is an extrovert extraordinaire. On the people side of the chart. She loves them! And she loves to tell stories. I love spending time with her — we’re a good balance. She talks; I listen, ask questions, make the occasional comment. And she thinks I’m the smartest friend she has. Haha!

    Liz, I DID grow up feeling my introverted personality was inferior to more extroverted types. It’s so easy to get lost in a crowd.

    I’ve learned a lot over time, though, most of all to give credibility and validity to all temperament types. Even mine. Learning about the direction of energy flow is what clinched it for me. Neither is wrong! It just is.

    I expend energy in groups; I replenish when I’m alone. Therefore, I’m an introvert. I don’t think I can change my energy flows. But I can adapt my behavior to meet situations, knowing (and accepting) who I am.

    That said, good conversation ALWAYS energizes me, whether in a group or one-on-one. Or reading good blog posts and their comments. :)

  3. says

    One of the great values of the Meyers Briggs is that it gives us a snapshot of out current alignment. What’s interesting is to see how it can change over time. While intuition has always been my strong suit, I’ve flipped between introversion and extroversion, as well as between thinking and feeling as secondary strengths, over time.

    One of our developmental tasks, what Jung calls the process of individuation, is to develop the areas that are not our strengths so as to become more whole.

    As psychological functions of the psyche, these aspects of ourselves are tools that allow us to handle reality. I like to think of them much as we in social media think of the different tools at our disposal to connect.

    So in answer to the question, I believe we can all grow in areas that are not our natural inclination.
    My own introversion gets much more of a challenge when I’m face to face than when seated at my laptop.

  4. says

    What an interesting question – and as someone on the ‘wrong’ side of the 1964 divide, I’d definitely think of myself as introverted.

    But as you say, behaviour is different on the social web. I guess the question is, if you met the people you twitter with daily in real life, would you behave as an introvert or an extrovert? Perhaps it depends how close you feel you’ve become; perhaps the barriers that would normally be there at least for a while take less time to fall because you’ve already ‘met’?

    Or is the persona visible online a mask, behind which you wouldn’t be able to hide ‘in real life’? Perhaps that depends how genuine your portrayal of you, online, has been?

  5. says

    I love the topic, Liz! I’ve always been a true introvert — but a conflicted one. I love people. I love absorbing other people’s energy and seeing where it might bring me. But, in the end, I always need that place of retreat. I find it draining to be “on” for too long and it takes more energy than I’d like in order to remain in that sandbox.

    As a writer — first a newspaper columnist and more recently a blogger — I’ve always enjoyed sitting down and putting my thoughts down for others to read. Many people are amazed at the “deep, dark secrets” I share with the world through my writing. They often say they could never share so much of themselves with strangers — or even with many of their loved ones. They ask how I can do it, since many see me as a generally shy person.

    The way I see it is that writing allows an introvert to be a temporary extrovert. As a blogger, Twitterer or Facebooker, I control how, when and what I share. I can get in and out whenever and however I want. I can interact with people and feel share in their energy while still having no concern about awkward moments or being stuck in a conversation when I’d rather retreat into myself.

    After I’m done writing a blog post or have an engaging Twitter conversation, I’m often energized. But after I’m done with a social function, I’m completely drained. The tools of the social web allow an introvert to control how they enter and exit a conversation — or whether they want to take part in the first place. These tools also allow us to take written thoughts that once might have ended up in a private journal and quickly spread them to hundreds if not thousands of people.

    I’m still an introvert, and that will never change. But these tools allow writing to pose as conversation. That allows people like me who feel more comfortable with the written word, as opposed to the spoken word, to use our once private craft as a social tool.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I find this topic extremely interesting.

    And good luck with SOBCon next week! I’m sure it will be the best year yet!

  6. says

    It sounds like the distinction between introvert and extrovert is in how people process & re-fuel.

    In person it is easy to see if someone is in the spotlight or headed to their cave for this activity.

    Online it is not so easy to tell. Although there is an audience the process of posting online could be a heavily social exploration or a more internal reflection that is documented – like an open diary.

    It does seem very important that the book is cracked open. Sometimes people respond and relate – not something an introvert would normally experience when recovering in their private cave.

    I suppose you can see which type I relate to?

    PS – I wonder about art & artists. If you frame the internal exploration exposed for public consumption idea… there are many artists who are very private but working out their thoughts and sharing them with the world. Is it an analogy?

  7. says

    There are two relevant and one less relevant statements to consider here.

    “Hearing themselves talk is how they solve problems”. People think I’m gregareous or rude because I interrupt while they’re talking — I’m clarifying what they’re saying as they’re talking and adding to the thoughts. I only discovered what this behavior was and its significance when reading about a similar behavior in M. Waldrop’s book “Complexity”.

    I even have proof that I consider Twitter my mechanism for thinking out loud:

    “When they’re with other people they get recharged.” I’ve always been a conference junkie for this reason. I’ve described conferences as an “injection”, a “fix” for me. There’s a qualifier here that’s missing. For people like me (and I’m guessing also for you, Liz) it’s not just about being with other people, it’s about being with other people who think — about things you find interesting (not necessarily that you agree with). Twitter has now become that gathering.

    The last statement is the least relevant Extraverts (also spelled extroverts) tend to be gregarious, assertive, and interested in seeking out excitement. The problem seems to be that there are two radically different dimensions here: how we think and how we interact. While I would venture to guess Liz that I might be more extroverted in my interactions than you, I’m not all that interested in seeking out excitement (other than the thrill of learning — hardly comparable to cliffhanging, except for the adrenalin rush).

    Oddly, I think that these distinctions you point out here are key clues that contribute to the phenomenon of Twitter. I also believe that unraveling the distinctions that are typically not considered are also relevant.

  8. says


    You make some keen observations and raise interesting questions on this topic. I think social technologies lower the barrier for entry, and make communication easier. As social technologies have advanced (CB Radio, Telephone, Cell Phone, Email, Social Networks), it has enabled each generation you cited (Gen X, Millenials) to communicate in new eays that are more convenient than ever before. As these methods are accepted as cultural norms, individuals become more comfortable with them.

    As a result, I think those of us that were natural introverts (myself included), develop both better communication skills, and most importantly, the confidence to effectively articluate ourselves and communicate with others.

    We’re not radically changing who we are. I’m still an introvert by nature, but social technologies available today, for the first time ever, give us channels to release our thoughts, share our ideas in a way that we are more comfortable with. Compare this with the past, there weren’t as many options, and the socially acceptable norms for sharing required taking greater risks.

    I expect to see the trend cited in your data above continue. Each generation will become more extroverted as a result.

    Great post. It really got the wheels turning this morning.

  9. says

    Hi Liz

    Interesting thoughts (and comments). Never really sure what I’m, perhaps a Chameleon-vert?

    ..changing energy source from inside to out?

    My thoughts, and this tied in with Robyn’s comment I think: getting energised by sharing one’s thoughts and ideas? In fact: giving energy?

    Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

  10. says

    As an introvert, do I think social media is making me more extroverted? No I don’t. At least not in my everyday, normal life.

    Now if I am going to a social media conference or event, then yes, I am far more likely to be more engaging because I will know many of the people attending due to interacting with them via social media sites/tools.

    So I think as familiarity increases, so does interaction. At least for me.

  11. says

    Hi, Liz,

    I think it would be fascinating to see data related to introversion and extroversion as a person ages. I remember in my early 20’s through probably my mid-30’s I was very extroverted. I refueled by going to parties, and hanging out with my friends and social groups.

    From my mid 30’s to my later 40’s I was pretty balanced. I was satisfied with being alone but enjoyed occasional times with friends and family.

    Now in my early 50’s I’m finding that I’m *very* satisfied with myself and with time alone. I find that social events, though fun for a short period of time, can be really draining to me.

    I don’t know if I’m typical, but it would be interesting if there were data that showed a persons “evolution” in this area. It would help in marketing as those who market to younger people would use more social events and social proof, while older prospects would respond better to encouragements toward alone time and self-satisfaction.

    Just thinkin’. Do you or anyone else see this kind of pattern in your own personal history?

  12. says

    To me it’s always seemed that people’s individual personalties will always be the determining factor but this phenomenon of the social web is definitely offering the “classic” introvert a way to become more outgoing amongst other folks while at the same time being protected behind the virtual “walls of anonymity” that these various social tools provide.

    I saw it first within the comments of various blogs and then en mass when social tools like MyBlogLog, Blog Catalog, Facebook and Twitter (and many others) arrived on the scene.

    I find myself wondering though, from time to time, if something like E.M. Forster’s; “The Machine Stops” might someday evolve from all this?

  13. says

    I need both ways to recharge–being around other folks, and being by myself. Since participating in social media online doesn’t involve physically being other people, I don’t count blogging or tweeting as extroverted.

    The amount of time between postings and replies takes away the energy-leeching element of being around people, and allows me to formulate my thoughts at a pace that is more comfortable for me than when competing with extroverts who generally talk more.

    That being said however I do notice that when actually meeting people in person that I have “met” somewhere online I am more extroverted than in the past. I’d agree with previous commentors that life experience can mitigate what comes naturally and our types that show up on Myer’s Briggs would change over time. And happily so.

  14. says

    I used to work in an HR dept that valued the MBTI, and we did a lot of workshops regarding the assessment tool and it’s results. The MBTI stresses that the assessment result on the introvert/extrovert continuum only informs us where we get our energy, and that we should not value one result over the other. Regardless, people (especially management) throughout the organization still heavily valued the extrovert result over introvert, acting as though being an introvert was a handicap to be overcome.

    I think that is still the case in the world outside of that organization. We tend to think of introverts as having an extra burden or handicap. Who wants to be perceived that way? I think for a lot of people, the assessment results are skewed because they want to be perceived as more outgoing because outgoing is perceived in a more positive light.

    I am an extreme introvert, and I do find myself much more interactive with others online than in person. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I am even energized by online interactions with others (especially regarding comments on my blog). But I don’t think there is any change in my preference for introversion when it comes to face to face interaction with others. I still seek out alone time to recharge my batteries.

    I haven’t retaken the assessment tool since I became so active using social media – now I’m curious to see if my placement on that continuum has moved.

  15. says

    I think it depends…

    … on the situation and group whether I am more introvert or more extrovert. Among good friends or few people or when I really feel comfortable about a topic or the environment I am in the latter and among large crowd of strangers rather the former.

    … but also on the tools I use to relate to people: I am much more extroverted face to face when I can take cues from expressions and posture of the other people. So for me, case social media probably does not make me more outgoing.

    To make a wild generalization from my own case: nobody is fully introvert or extrovert and the situation, means of communication and counterparts will determine whether a specific conversation gives or takes energy.

  16. says

    A few random remembrances from my years of using the MBTI with corporate clients—

    The Myers-Briggs measures preferences rather than actual behavior. So introverts can behave extrovertedly (is that a word?) and vice-versa. But whenever we behave in a way that we don’t prefer,it creates stress.

    It is doubtful that our preferences change very much over time, if at all, but we can change our behavior and deal with the stress. Most of us, especially introverts, do that.

    In the US it is generally believed that introversion is not such a good thing (it is confused with shyness or withdrawal) because introverts are a minority. I can’t recall the actual percentages, but the difference is significant. So many introverts become “forced extroverts.”

    If I remember the research correctly, forced extroversion is particularly rampant among women because our culture seems to demand that of them. It’s OK for a guy to hang out in his basement alone with a bunch of electronics, but “there is something wrong” if a woman does anything like that.

  17. says

    Funny, I, like Stepahn above, am usually very talkative around people and far more reticent online. I guess I also gather energy from the live interaction and social cues that go with it, and am wary of “over-sharing” in the digital realm. Get me on Facebook Chat, however, and I can go on forever.

    This seems to illustrate what I have always said–these tools just make it easier to be online who you are in life–for better or worse!

  18. says

    I always have heated discussions about this with my friend(s). By nature I am an introvert my friends and co-workers don’t buy it. But I can “fake it” as an extrovert extremely well. Or as Dick mentioned above, I am a “forced extrovert” Meaning, when I am around people, I am lively, vibrant, contributing, but it is exhausting and afterwards I want to go to a quiet room and be alone. Social media has changed my dealings with other people a lot. And I like the label independent introvert. I can engage when I want, as I want and as often as I want and it is rewarding. I think as long as you set expectations with the others, they get it. Conferences and networking events are still difficult for me, but it is something that has to be done, so I bite the bullet and do it because the end justifies the means and the end is usually very rewarding.

  19. says

    I’m an INFP, and a friend of mine (who I met after I’d been active on the social web a long while) once looked at me like I was claiming to have three heads when I mentioned being an introvert. So apparently I’m faking extraversion magnificently. :)

    I don’t think that the social web changes introverts into extraverts. I do think that it lowers the energy cost of interaction for introverts to the point that we can manage more interaction without getting hopelessly drained.

    It also helps us increase confidence in our interpersonal communication skills, making it less stressful to interact with others “in the real world.”

    But it doesn’t change the fact that other people drain my energy, and time alone recharges it. It’s just lowered the rate of drain and allowed me to enjoy some of the benefits of extraversion.

  20. says

    Your definitions are so appropriate because it’s not that I don’t like to be around people. I enjoy parties – with time alone in between.
    I still lean to the introvert side because I choose when I want to be on Twitter – when I’m emotionally ready.

    I was also slow to join Twitter, but love to chat when I’m there. [@jendisjournal]

  21. says

    Hi! I’m one of those bloggers that have been lurking and finally commenting:)
    You know, being an extrovert on social media, to me at least, isn’t really being extroverted. It’s easy to hide behind your computer or cell phone, or whatever other medium people use. Out of all the ones that are super networkers on the social media circle, I still believe the majority of them are extroverts, and the true introverts stay that way, unless their sites become super popular and they have to become public.
    I know my brother is introverted, yet he pretends to have a ‘million’ friends in his IM. But he rarely meets face to face with them.

  22. says

    Liz, if we subscribe to the dictionary versions of extrovert, “the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self,” and that of an introvert being the opposite, we’d have to think that when “extroverts” are blogging they are somewhat suppressed and when
    “introverts” have to communicate other than via the Internet, they are being forcibly drawn out.

    To level the playing field on these terms, we’re all aware we exhibit both extrovert and introvert qualities in good measure, but some folks past experiences nudge them to be more comfortable exhibiting one style over another.

    I know my blog readers (Change-makers’ Blog) are reading my posts to offer them support for professional development, career transitions, or life coaching tips. That is, they are looking for a deeper connection within themselves and to help them fulfill their goals and clarify and validate their direction. When they are writing, they share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, in the hope that it will create a connection for other people, which will satisfy their need for connection.

    Yes, blogging puts you out in front of others in a way that tv, for example, could never do. But I believe that passive mediums are primarily for entertainment, relaxation, and to fill up missing cracks in our life – and cannot be substituted for these all important human connections.

    I coach worldwide by telephone or via Skype, but periodically my face-to-face client sessions reveal that visual body language and energy offers another rich layer. It does require more of me to get out there and physically be with others?and I have done my share of chicken luncheon networking in the past? but not doing that now means I have to make an extra effort to meet with others. Heck, I even have to get out of my comfy clothes to do it.

    But I’m sure we’ll find in the years to come that if you stay behind your keyboard you will miss out on the human connections you secretly crave. But I’m sure we’ll find in the years to come that if you stay behind your keyboard you will crave the experience of human connections. This won’t mean you’ll transform to an extrovert once you’re out there, you’ll simply be more well-rounded.

  23. says

    I think a lot of people don’t realize the “refueling” part of the introvert/extrovert thing, either. It’s not about being shy or being outgoing–it’s about where your energy comes from. I can be outgoing but socializing always tires me out and I need time to myself to recharge my batteries–but I’m not exactly shy!

    But this is one of the reasons I really do love the social media thing–I can socialize AND by by myself at the same time. It’s a win/win!

  24. says

    Your questions:
    Are introverts becoming extroverts on the social web?

    Can we really think of it as being extroverted if we’re not actually WITH other people?

    Is it possible for an introvert to become an extrovert — changing energy source from inside to out?

    First if all the research and studies are correct, our brains are hardwired for introversion and extroversion. With an introversion preference the neurons have a longer route to follow and we NEED alone time, not crowds, to charge our batteries.

    I do think it is possible for introverts to act in more extroverted ways, like social online networking, as long as they understand how to balance that time.

    Otherwise, an introvert is an introvert. We can adapt and learn the skills needed for social networking online and in person but we will NOT become extroverts.

    I’m an INTJ in Meyers Briggs talk and I do like people, in small doses. What is that expression, “One is company, two too much is a crowd.”

    Patricia Weber

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