By A.J. Drenth
Those born after the turn of the century may not fully realize it, but we inhabit a very different world from that of even twenty years ago. The primary culprit? You may have already guessed it—the smartphone. In this post, we will explore the nature of this new digital era from a personality perspective, including its effects and implications for both introverts and extraverts.
Have smartphones turned us all into extraverts?
In asking this question, I’m not really concerned with whether smartphones are making us more (or less) social. There’s already plenty of discussion about the effects of modern technology on human social behavior. Rather, our primary concern here will involve the impact of smartphones on our attention.
In his classic work, Psychological Types, Carl Jung espoused that the chief difference between introverts and extraverts has to do with the typical direction of their attention. Introverts, according to Jung, prefer to turn their attentional spotlight inwardly, while extraverts direct theirs outwardly.
Jung went on to say that a type’s dominant function would largely dictate the direction and content of attention. For example, types whose dominant function is Introverted Feeling (i.e., INFP and ISFP) will largely concern themselves with their own feelings and values, whereas types using Extraverted Feeling (i.e., ENFJ and ESFJ) will focus more on interpersonal feelings, values, and dynamics.
In addition to pointing their attention in opposite directions, introverts and extraverts differ in the preferred scope of their attention. As explored in our book, My True Type, the extraverted functions (Se, Ne, Fe, Te) are characteristically broad, extensive, and expansive in their scope:
By contrast, the introverted functions (Si, Ni, Fi, Ti) are typically narrower in scope. Rather than expanding and multiplying, they prefer to zero in, distill, or consolidate:
In suggesting that extraverts utilize a broader scope of attention, I’m not necessarily arguing that they are better multitaskers. Extraverts may still prefer to focus on one thing at a time, but they will generally invest less time in one project or one individual than introverts will. From an extraverted perspective, putting “all of their eggs into one basket” is apt to seem mundane or foolish compared to having a more diversified portfolio.
So what does all of this have to do with the digital age in which we find ourselves? Let’s begin answering this question with another question:
Does life with a smartphone more closely resemble the extraverted style of attention—outwardly directed and quickly transitioning from one thing to the next—or the introverted mode, involving a deep and sustained focus on a limited number of concerns?
The answer is clearly the former. The following examples illustrate how we’ve adopted a more extraverted style of attention since the advent of the smartphone:
More specifically, the smartphone era seems to largely reflect the natural style of extraverted perceiving types (ENTP, ENFP, ESTP, ESFP). Using either Se or Ne as their dominant function, these types are wired to perceive and quickly respond to a wide range of external stimuli. They often feel under-stimulated without a constant stream of background noise or stimuli. Some even sleep with the television on, reporting that life feels “too quiet” without it. Moreover, because their attention span tends to be shorter and their need for variety greater, they prefer ingesting information in smaller chunks—perfect in an age of tweets and sound bites.
What we (especially introverts) might be sacrificing…
Introverts are known to require regular intervals of quiet and solitude to recharge their proverbial batteries. During these restorative moments, they may notice themselves sighing or taking deeper breaths, feeling like they can finally drop the extraverted façade and be themselves. In a real sense, these are healing moments for introverts, as their minds and bodies undergo a process of rebalancing and recalibration. Once balance has been restored, they literally feel like new human beings, like having a sound night of sleep after a long and stressful week.
Part of me wonders, however, if introverts raised in the smartphone era have had the opportunity to experience what true restoration feels like. The fact is that audible silence and physical solitude, while undoubtedly beneficial, aren’t enough to guarantee that introverts will feel recharged. Only when the calm and quiet is allowed to permeate their minds and bodies will they start to breathe and feel differently. In other words, introverts don’t just require quiet, they must become quiet. The key question then, is whether this is possible when their phones are constantly chirping and chiming? Can they find restoration if they are being held hostage by a perpetual stream of virtual intruders?
Self-restoration isn’t the only challenge facing introverts in the smartphone era. They may also contend with a perceived lack of direction and control over their lives. Those who fail to turn off their phones (or who can’t stop worrying about what they are missing when doing so) are essentially putting themselves at the mercy of outside forces. As discussed in my post, The Introvert’s Dilemma, this goes against their natural preference, which is to forge an identity and direction for their lives by way of self-reflection. Unfortunately, introverts who are unwilling to unplug will struggle to hear the voice that matters most when it comes to fashioning a fulfilling life—their own.
In short, I worry that younger generations of introverts, in particular, will pay a price for not understanding, and unwittingly neglecting, the needs of their own personality. This can leave them feeling lost, confused, scattered, depressed or otherwise ill-prepared for adulthood.
Unplug to recharge
While social media can at times supply jolts of energy and ego gratification, it can just as readily engender feelings of anxiety, depression, and compulsiveness. As we’ve seen, this makes it difficult to stay centered and to hear one’s own voice.
In my view, we can tap into a more powerful source of energy and renewal by periodically unplugging. Doing so can remind us that who we are deep down, at our center, is more robust and life-giving than our Instagram feed could ever convey.
If you’re an INFP, INTP, ENFP or ENTP looking to clarify who you are and your path in life, be sure to explore our online course—Finding Your Path as an INFP, INTP, ENFP or ENTP—which is now on sale: