The Interior Life

April 8, 2010

I noted a few weeks ago (on facebook, no less) that I’m starting to come to the conclusion that the internet is a bad thing. Yes, I’m fully aware of the irony of my position. This has to do with my ever increasing distaste for advertising and the way our desires and perceptions of “need” are so easily subverted (it isn’t paranoia if they’re out to get you, right?) and with the specific characteristics and interactions that the internet fosters. But I’m not ready to give up on just yet, because I still unearth really wondrous and interesting things pretty much every day on the internet. With that in mind, I’d like to spend this post talking about two things I ran across (fairly) recently, and they’re both of a piece with each other, dealing with people’s conceptual interiors. The first is a post on shyness I saw on Jason Kottke’s blog, which is a repository of all that is good and right with the world. (Post here, and relevant linked article here.) The second is an article on Slate about an interesting study about purchasing habits and morality. (Slate article here abstract of the referenced paper here.

The thing that grabbed me most about Kottke’s post was his discussion of another book and the way that David Foster Wallace talked about the egotism of introversion. Wallace noted that while we tend to think of introverts as extraordinarily modest and self-effacing, they’re actually incredibly self-absorbed people. As he puts it, in any social situation the introvert is thinking only about themselves. His insight is accurate, I think, but I also think he misses something crucial in this analysis. (It should be noted that I say this as one notoriously reluctant to engage in conversation with people I have not been introduced to.) To label the shy as egotistical is accurate insofar as it goes, but to label them as particularly egotistical, which I’m not sure he does since I’ve not read the book which would give context to Kottke’s post, is a bit off the mark. Far more accurate would be to say that human beings in general are just pretty egotistical things. That’s what makes it so remarkable when a person is able to do something sacrificial or to think beyond themselves. I will say that the post has done a good deal more to make me more self-conscious, which is a feat in and of itself, and probably not what the intended effect was.

The other little thing I’d like to talk about is the publication of a study that essentially links buying “green” or ethical products with being a jerk. I was particularly sensitive to reading this, since I usually try to advocate for doing the very things that the study says makes people mean. The hypothesis is pretty strong, insofar as that goes, and pretty annoying in its implications. The take away is that buying things that are ethically desirable acts as cover for people to be jerks in other arenas. The internal justification is, “Well, I can’t be that bad a person even though I just crabbed out that waiter; I drive a Prius!” Ugh. I want desperately to sweep this under the rug and pretend it isn’t real, but that just seems like the exact opposite (again) of what the authors of the study would have wanted. Instead, it will serve as a reminder to me to be polite and kind to people no matter what. Drinking fair trade coffee doesn’t give me an excuse to be an asshole.

The next post will probably be about exegeting David Bazan’s newest album, and discussing the effect of advertising and licensing on my appreciation of Regina Spektor’s latest album. And maybe an apologetic for the awesomeness of Iowa.

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4 Responses to “The Interior Life”

  1. Traci Kasperbauer said

    I don’t understand the point of the article and post on shyness. Both writers could have just written “Shyness exists. I’ve seen it before. Western culture is generally annoyed by it, but I think it’s fine.” and the posts would have been just as informative.
    The definition of introversion (inward thinking) basically is “self-absorption,” but shyness is the opposite of egotism. A quote from the Boston article says “It’s not always virtuous to sit on one’s personality and refuse to share it” as if shy people just need to be taken down a notch before they will become as open and talkative like everyone else. That’s not how it works, trust me.
    I am definitely shy and I have never gone into a room full of people and thought to myself “I am better than everyone else here, so I will not bother joining in this conversation.”
    I am usually wondering if my comment would be useful to the conversation, or what I am supposed to say in a particular situation. Then the conversational topic will change and I begin feeling the pressure to just open my mouth and say something, anything!
    If I feel too much pressure to talk more, I can get uncomfortable and try to leave the situation.
    I think people make too big of a deal about people who are shy needing to be more talkative when I honestly feel like I have nothing I particularly want to say. I’d rather listen to other people talk.
    Shy people ARE “extraordinarily modest and self-effacing” which I think is the exact definition of shyness. I don’t like getting attention from large groups of people, and I don’t like to tell personal information to people I am not extremely close to. It’s not a good or a bad thing, it’s just a thing.
    Shyness isn’t a defect or disease, it’s just another personality trait that people stereotype and blow out of proportion.
    (Sorry for such a long comment.. I wanted to say something about the articles.)

    • christophermahlon said

      Thanks for commenting, Traci.

      The point of my comments was more to illustrate my reaction to the comments on Kottke’s blog and the Boston.com article. I think I’m pretty much in agreement with you here, as another fairly shy person, but I thought that the insight Wallace had was a pretty interesting one, if crude. Wallace was smarter than that; he could have worded it better.

  2. Katie said

    When I was in high school, one of the girls I hung out with at lunchtime once asked me “Why are you so quiet?” I wanted to retort “Why do you talk so freaking much about nothing?”

    But I didn’t. Much to my regret.

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