Saturday, 2 February 2013

Cain talking quietly

Susan Cain's book, Quiet, sets out to make the case of introverts in a world she says can't stop talking. As an introvert myself I was keen to see what she had to say. To be honest it is a strange book. Is it self help- kind of? Is it popular psychology? Is it memoir? Though interesting and thought provoking in places it is flawed, both as writing and research.
The basic flaw, and a fairly major one is that she never really defines introversion. She then goes on to talk about a whole lot of stuff that is at best tangential to it. Screeds are taken up with talking about shyness and fear of public speaking. Neither of these characteristics are necessarily part of being an introvert. Many definitions are at pains to stress that it does not mean shyness or timidity.
Where the book refers to anything that could be described as robust research it relates to traits that are not necessarily about introversion. But more often relies on what can generously be called case studies to make her points. Interviewing one Asian American student then making sweeping cultural statements on the basis of this is hugely over stating what she has found.
Being fair, it is not trying to be high brow academic study. So how does it fair as a story, a narrative. Somebody like Jon Ronson can tackle this kind of stuff with a light touch and amusing anecdote. Cain does not have a light touch or betray any evidence of a sense of humour. In its place are toe curling homilies either involving  her husband Ken, or other couples. And nobody does a regular job, they are all skull crushing high achievers, Harvaard educated Lawyers and international peace envoys. doesn't Cain talk to any Painters or checkout staff. i guess not because they don't feature in this world. The tone is all whitened teeth and achievement. This kind of stuff may go down a treat in America (it must do it has shifted lots of units) but is a far too sugary confection for me.