In his 1977 book, Shyness, psychologist Philip Zimbardo took a long look at shyness. He is the only psychologist, to my knowledge, that has devoted so much of his career and writing to it. I devoted many pages in my book The Shyness Guide to his findings and views.
In a Mar 31, 2016 post in Psychology Today, “The New Shyness -How virtual reality has made social Isolation more seductive than ever before”, Zimbardo provided a very interesting update.
Zimbardo says shyness is increasing, but, unlike me, he doesn’t see anything positive in it. While I see more people living out their natural shy instincts, he sees a lot of people, young men especially, getting lost in an online world where they avoid real contact with other people, resulting in a decline in social skills and increasing alienation.
As an example, he provides this comment from a young man who responded to one of his surveys:
I play video games and watch pornography on a regular basis…..but I’ve always been average looking and I’ve hated the tiresome aspect of having to appease the opposite sex. It’s expensive, confusing, and rarely successful. I feel like the personal relationships with any girl/woman I’ve known meant nothing to me and can be easily substituted with male company whilst pornography fills the rest.
What troubles Zimbardo here troubles me too. The passive/aggressive terminology these shy men use feels very toxic. But there are two sides to this. Here is a post, (“The Value of Being a Loner” by Christopher Contrary) from the website Return of Kings, where the writer first draws attention to the fact that many famous philosophers were shy loners, then says:
But you don’t have to be an erudite genius to choose (wisely) to spend much or most of your time alone. One of the more difficult truths about the human condition is that people don’t understand us in a deep sense any more than we do them. Our deepest thoughts, feelings and values are hard, and in many cases impossible, to share or communicate. The knowledge of this becomes plain as we get older, and then it becomes natural to spend more and more time alone.
That, as it stands, is a perfectly good answer to Zimbardo. We have always had shy loners, and the internet is allowing them more of a voice. But this same author goes on to say this:
Now time alone may be understood as a measure of a person’s value. Strong and well-cultivated men require and cherish it. With stupid and weak men – that is the majority – the opposite is true. Their Facebook is like a woman’s, with its 2,421 friends; and it’s also obviously rare for any woman to be a loner, since in themselves most women are just objects of desire and vehicles of external validation.
Suddenly we have this shocking disconnect with most of society. The derogatory comments about non-shy men and, apparently, all women, are especially revealing. I’ve met many “strong and well-cultivated” men who were not loners, and the most eloquent contemporary loner I can think of is a woman – Anneli Rufus (read her book about loners, Party of One).
Zimbardo might say, “Well, there you are, this is just another one.” In his March 2016 post, he says, “A twisted sort of shyness has evolved as the digital self becomes less and less like the real-life operator,” apparently referring to someone like C. Contrary.
But that writer does understand this world. He says:
The age of text messages and social media, ironically, finds many people being loners in spite of themselves. Whether you are sending lots of texts, or constantly on Facebook and Twitter, you are engaging in mediums that are actually quite cold, sterile and impersonal. You may have a lot of “friends”, but in fact few care much about you; and your interactions with other people are certainly very empty if they are nothing but words and images on a screen,….
Then he adds:
….today most people who have a good professional job, or are in college working towards having one, are simply too busy to have much in the way of a social life ……. many of us are compelled to be loners – or at least lonely!
Who can argue with that? He seems to be on his way to get a lot of us on side after-all, but then comes this:
I look towards the future ….. and predict that, for men, being a loner will become more common in the next ten to twenty years. Smartphones and social media have turned American women into entitled flake machines. At least eight out of ten of them are good for nothing but sex.
I’m reminded here of the loner in the Simon & Garfunkel song, I Am a Rock, who sits in his window contemplating his separation from the people in the street below. But this loner has such a deep antipathy to others that he’s become a sniper, firing bullets down into the street.
However, he speaks for a lot of young men today. Zimbardo is right that something has gone wrong. The shyness that I advocate is not this kind of shyness, but I sympathize with these men who have painted themselves into such corners, and I do wish that there was a good answer for them. Here’s Philip Zimbardo’s answer:
Over the last few decades society has focused on boosting girls and women, which has been much needed. But….boy’s needs have been largely neglected. ……….. Society must show young men that they are lovable and desirable – essentially show them they are worthwhile human beings – if we wish them to RE-connect, rather than DIS-connect with society at large.
Easier said than done, though I can’t argue with it.
I just wish that, in the process of all this helping of shy people, which has been going on since I was in school in the 1950s, and rarely seems to help anyone, people would keep in mind that most shy people are inherently shy and wish other people would respect that. If they would just do that – accept that shyness is natural, something real that can’t be eliminated – I some of this alienation would disappear.