Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Extrovert World

This past weekend, my beloved Mrs H and I went to a barbershop for me to get a haircut, and it struck home again just how much of our society is now attuned to, and ruled by, extroverts. The second we got in the door, the entire staff of the shop turned and chorused,

“Welcome to BazookaClips!”

No, that’s not the real name of course. But it was such a turn that it should have been. If we hadn’t had a real good coupon we probably would have left.

Various other businesses are doing this, too, I’ve noted. I’m assuming (I can’t see why else it would be done) that it has something to do with making the consumer feel at home. I suppose that makes sense as long as the consumer is shallow enough that they don’t notice that the greeting is frequently given with a glassy-eyed glance, and in a monotone that is usually reserved for the recitation of a Biblical genealogy.

Oh sure. Some of the “welcomers” are extroverts, too, and probably enjoy it. They’re the sorts who would be happy to meet a bug on the wall. But why is it assumed that greeting practices like these will be universally welcomed? Probably because as I said in an earlier post, extroverts are running the show – and the introverts figure there’s no sense in speaking up. And since they stay quiet, no one ever learns that some find the practice uncomfortable, shallow, or even objectionable.

I will speak up, though, the next time it happens where I’m the only one affected. Voicing an objection to the folks at BazookaClips isn’t what I have in mind; they’re under orders from someone higher, so it isn’t fair to object to them. They’re just doing their job. But in a meeting with a pastoral leader some months ago, the fellow on the other side was using my name something like twice a sentence, clearly following some business advice written by hardcore extroverts. If I get one of those meetings again, I’ll stop them and say:

“Look, I understand repeating my name all the time is some sort of relational practice you’ve picked up for business, but would you mind not doing that? It creeps me out.”

Why should we introverts stay quiet when the babblers invade our sphere so, you know – invasively?

I’ll probably get a blank stare after that. There are too many signs that the extros have taken over and don’t get it -- it's sort of like the way fundy atheists assume the values of the modern world held in the Bible's times. The other day I was put on hold, and instead of music or silence – either of which I would have far preferred – I got an extended recording of a man saying, “While we have you on hold, let me tell you about this product we have…”

No. Let’s not pretend this is a conversation, shall we?

It’s so bad though that Mrs H’s mother used to have a microwave oven that, when it was through cooking, would flash a message on its timer: ENJOY YOUR MEAL.

What? Are we so lonely out there that we want our machines to wish us culinary blessings?

It sure is funny. We hear so much about how people are lonely and hurting, and how Jesus (your good buddy) can help you with that. With the way we’re anthropomorphizing even microwaves, it’s little wonder Buddy Jesus is the main way churches try to get converts these days.

Take a clue from this introvert: It’s better to look for real, depth relationships – in the right places.


  1. Well, James Patrick Holding, you raise some interesting points there. Have you, James Patrick Holding, had the opportunity to read Adam McHugh's "Introverts in the Church", James Patrick Holding? It seems like the sort of book that you, James Patrick Holding, might enjoy.

  2. Well JPH. You know how I am as an Aspie with this. In training for my cashier position, I was told to smile and greet the customer since that's how you'd want to be treated.

    Um. No. I don't come to a store to make friends. I come to buy stuff. I just want to get rung up, get out, and get home.

    Interestingly, I recall someone in a Facebook debate saying "We value eye contact in our culture" to which I said "You may. I don't. I hate eye contact." I only save eye contact for people I especially trust, such as looking in Mrs. Phoenix's eyes.

    As an Aspie, I can't stand being told I need to be social. Of course, some customers complain about me. However, it's still that what you see is what you get. I don't know a stranger yet so I'm not going to treat them like a friend I've seen several times.

  3. @JB Not yet. But oddly enough I don't mind if the WHOLE name is used repeatedly. :P

  4. @Nick Same here re in a store. Please don't chat me up, just check me out, thanks.

  5. Thought I'd drop in some perspective from a guy who is not sure where he is along the spectrum. Sometimes I feel like an introvert but then other times I feel quite social, even with strangers (not enough to become a butterfly, thankfully).

    My main comment is about your mocking of Mrs. H's mother's microwave flashing a 'culinary blessing' after completing the meal. You might be joking about it, and if you are, my following points are moot. But if you're serious, then I feel that you're being quite unreasonable with including the microwave as an example to demonstrate your point about the unfortunately extro-dominant society we live in.

    I'm a software developer and am thus speaking from such an experience, but I can assure you that we engineers traditionally never implemented such messages with such extrovertism (is that even the word?) in mind. Keep in mind that we tend to be quite introverts ourselves. The primary purpose for such messages was to give some visual feedback that would assist in debugging during software/hardware maintenance. But some of us got a little creative and decided to leave our personal marks on our products via a personalized greeting, just to serve as a reminder that the machine you were using was made by human hands. Thus, it is no surprise that when I see such messages on products I try to imagine the people behind this message. It would be quite like writing a letter to a friend. Your friend would think of YOU when reading the writing on the piece of parchment. He would not anthropomorphize the actual letter itself as you (unless you're living in Harry Potter-esque magical society).

    Apart from that, your article was a very good read. I'm still not sure where in the spectrum I am, but I frankly don't care at this point.

    1. The explanation you give is essentially saying the same thing I did -- that the message was put there as a personal greeting. That's anthropomorphizing the machine, which is precisely my point.

    2. So even if you give human attributes to a non-human object/being with the sole purpose of message transmission (and NOT to give the object itself a human 'soul'), would that still come under the anthropomorphizing term?

    3. Yes -- in good measure because it's not likely that the user of the oven will see it as a message from the engineer. If it were instead: "Enjoy your meal! From Joe Shlop, Engineer who designed this oven" that would make a difference. But I guess it might also not pass quality control. :D

      As it is, the message is relayed in such a way that it is the machine that speaks, not the engineer.

  6. @Nick You make an interesting and eye-opening (no pun intended) point about the eye-contact thing. I come from an Eastern culture where consistent eye-contact was actually a sign of rebellion and disrespect when used with elders. It was also a sign of suspicion when used with strangers. You'd only make consistent eye-contact with close friends, and even then both of you would find it weird some times.

    I've moved a lot all over the world due to my Father's adventurous business ventures and have been in a North American (Western) context for a very long time and I have always thought that consistent eye-contact was actually a sign of respect in the west. But because of my Eastern background, I struggle a lot with making eye-contact with people, even close friends some times. And I've had to work in fast-food and retail as well so I fully understand your experience as a cashier.

    I guess I've learned that I should stop forcing continuous eye-contact because it's OK not to.