In 2012 Susan Cain, formerly a Wall Street attorney, published Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. The book was a smash success, selling millions of copies and getting thousands of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, eventually leading to a TED talk that was also equally successful and critically acclaimed, which has since been viewed almost 15 million times, making it one of the most popular TED talks ever.
Quiet topped many best-seller lists:
No. 1 on the NPR Bestseller List
No. 3 on the Los Angeles Times Best Seller list
No. 3 on The Washington Post Book World bestsellers list
No. 4 on The New York Times Best Seller list being on the list (top 15) for sixteen weeks,
No. 12 best selling book (across all categories) on Amazon.com (March 3, 2012, not necessarily a peak ranking),
No. 2 on The New York Times Best Seller list (paperback nonfiction) by mid-June 2016 having been on the list for 138 weeks, and
No. 1 bestselling original non-fiction book of 2012 as listed by the Toronto Star.
The success of Quiet and the TED talk propelled Cain from just another corporate nobody to a major pubic figure and even media celebrity. Most books and TED talks are quickly forgotten, but this was monumental and indelible, only to be eclipsed by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (and associated TED talk) a few years later. But the success of Quiet paved the way for Lean In and similar semi-autobiographical accounts that don’t just just tell a personal story but also convey a message that society should heed, too.
Since 2008 or so, there has been a steady increase of interest in introverts:
Ironically, despite not seeking attention, introverts are getting more attention than ever, as well as more success in post-2008 society (in terms of good paying jobs, web 2.0, real estate, stocks, etc., in addition to success online, self-publishing, speaking gigs, etc.).
In her TED talk, Cain describes going to summer camp, and while all the other girls were gregarious, she had a suitcase full of books and wanted to be alone. Fast-forward decades later and now the ‘most popular girl’ in her camp is probably a nobody today, while Cain has become something of a media sensation. It’s a complete 180 reversal that likely wouldn’t have been possible in any earlier time in history, but thanks to post-2008 society, which rewards individualism and success over the collective, introverts are now calling the shots and getting more attention than they ever imagined or want.
Part of this is due to the internet, which allows people who don’t like physically being with other people to express themselves to potentially limitless audience. Pretty much everyone who has a lot of followers on Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, or Twitter – or anyone who is hugely popular online – is probably an introvert in real life and was one of the ‘uncool kids’ in school – only to become the center of attention, as well as having a lot of power and status, online and as an adult. Others are coders making a solid six-figures, or making tons of money in the stock market and or other high-IQ endeavors. Meanwhile the ‘popular kids’ in school are likely stuck in low-status, low-paying jobs that don’t keep up with inflation.
But also the hyper-competitive, super-efficient nature of America’s post-2008 economy, where quantifiable results are more important than ‘small talk’ or ‘office politics’, also plays a role. Introverts, through typically having a high IQ and being industrious, are especially wired for success in today’s results-orientated, show-me economy. When the economy nearly imploded in 2008, bosses fired the least productive, the dead weight. The smartest (who are generally introverts and mostly in STEM) rose to the top, seeing their inflation-adjusted wages rise as everyone else’s wages stayed flat or declined. They (high-IQ introverts) are also making money through asset inflation (thanks to QE and forever low interest rates), such as real estate (especially in the Bay Area), web 2.0 valuations (Snapchat, Uber, Airbnb, etc.), and stocks (Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc.). And America’s most successful, respected business and technology leaders (Musk, Zuckerberg, Travis Kalanick, Thiel, Andreessen, Paul Graham, etc.) almost uniformly exhibit introvert tendencies, and are famous for their creations that are revolutionizing the world, not for being ‘people pleasers’ or talkative.
There has never been a better time in the history of the world to be an introvert than now, especially in America. Fifty years ago the ‘jocks’ ruled. There was no ‘information age’, no internet, and society was less productive and efficient. There was no ZIRP, POMO, and QE. There was an abundance of overpaying jobs for all levels intellect, whereas nowadays the less intelligent may find that they are not smart enough to succeed.
Now it’s the ‘tyranny of the bookish‘, a ‘revenge of the nerds’ society in overdrive:
Whether it’s mathematicians, theoretical physicists, coders, writers, quants, economists, or bibliophiles, the viral image above is more evidence that in America, especially, intellectualism is more important than ever, with MIT and Caltech the ‘meccas’. Reddit users know that the booksish, socially awkward, and introverted will rule the world, if they haven’t already. The financial problem of 2008 kicked the legs of the flimsy folding table that was the old economy, knocking it over and crushing those intellectually unfit.
And to quote Bill Gates, ‘Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.’
In December 2012, Cracked published what would become their most popular article ever 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person, which has been read and shared millions of times. Like Quiet, also published in 2012, it was very prescient in forecasting these post-2013 social and economic trends, which could explain why the article was so viral, and is an example of the ‘contrarian mainstream’ style of journalism has become really popular since 2013 (articles that douse cold water on beliefs many hold dear, which is related to ‘advice culture’).
This passage stood out:
If you want to know why society seems to shun you, or why you seem to get no respect, it’s because society is full of people who need things. They need houses built, they need food to eat, they need entertainment, they need fulfilling sexual relationships. You arrived at the scene of that emergency, holding your pocket knife, by virtue of your birth — the moment you came into the world, you became part of a system designed purely to see to people’s needs.
In the past, the Woody Allen dictum “Eighty percent of success is showing up” rang true; but, as the Cracked article shows, now it’s “Eighty percent of success is creating economic value.” Introverts, who prefer diligence than keeping up with the latest office politics and ‘small talk’, are especially well-adapted for this. Even though I lean ‘right’ on many issues, the pro-life right is wrong: being born, existence isn’t a virtue in and of itself; results are.
Now Susan Cain’s story has become commonplace, not aberrant, of 20 and 30-somethings on Instagram and elsewhere posting memes about how socializing is overrated compared to making money (hustle culture) and being alone or being ‘boring’. Nightclub attendance is plunging. Young people are getting married later, if at all, while living with their parents longer. In a sense, she was a trendsetter, but also a poster child of today’s individualistic, results-oriented economy and society.