I’m an introvert.
People tend to equate being an introvert with being shy, when one really has little to do with the other. Introversion and shyness sometimes intersect, to be sure. But shyness is a feeling, while introversion is a way of being. To me, being introverted just means that I get my energy from working and thinking by myself, or from meaningful collaboration with others. Extroverts, on the other hand, get energy from being around lots of different people, which I guess I can understand, at least intellectually, but I still think it’s weird.
So even though I’m introverted, I still like to get out and meet new people. I like to talk about business, or politics, or the weather. Or whatever. That’s the background. Here’s the story:
I ran out of coffee yesterday, but that wasn’t the crisis. The crisis happened this morning when I woke up at 5:30 am and realized I hadn’t bought more coffee yesterday like I’d intended. Okay, not good. Work work work, drop off the kid, straight to Giant for more coffee. Remarkably, I didn’t speak to a single person from the time I dropped Sam off at school to the time I answered my phone at my desk, steaming, fresh-brewed coffee in hand, 30 minutes later. How? The wonder of the self-checkout.
The self-checkout is a miracle of modern technology that allows retailers to provide even less service while making you feel like they’re doing you a favor. (As if charging you 99 cents for a bag you’re going to forget to bring back isn’t enough). And I love the self-checkout, especially at 8:30 am when there’s only one normal line open and it’s 3 people deep. That twinkly monitor just calls to me: “Lane Ooooopen.”
The thing that concerns me about the self-checkout is that it takes human contact completely off the table. Let’s face it. I work at home – often in pajama pants. Sometimes, despite my introversion, I need an excuse to make eye contact with a friendly face, even if that face is paid to be friendly. When this happens, I go shopping. Hey, I’m never going to know my barista by name, but somehow I feel a little more connected to the world after standing around in a huddle under the light, waiting for my latte with a secretary, the cell phone sales guy and two stay-at-home moms.
Sometimes I make up little games at the self-checkout. Like racing with the other self-checkout customers. One time, as I bolted out of Home Depot, sweet victory on my breath, I actually hissed, “I win!” Yeah, out loud, and kind of in this guy’s ear. Weirdly, he looked at me like he had no idea what I was talking about.
In my mind, all of this points to a lost art of being social. At the risk of sounding crotchety, we sit around with our email and our instant messenger and our Playstation 3s, cursing when the phone rings or someone pokes his head into the office. Blast! I have to have a conversation now?
What would happen if we all slowed down a little bit? What if we intentionally made eye contact with people we passed on the sidewalk, or looked up from our blackberries to compliment another mom at the park? Let’s try it and see.