Two steps toward a more humane world

Two posts from two very different writers on two simple ways to make the world a better, happier, more humane place for us all.

“Life is too short to deal with a horrible user interface,” John Scalzi writes.

And so, he says, he has changed his voice mail message to the following:

Hi, this is John Scalzi. I will never ever ever ever listen to the voice mail you’re about to leave, because voice mail is a pain in the ass. So if you actually want to reach me, you can either send me a text at this number, or send me e-mail at “john [at] scalzi [dot] com.” Feel free to leave a voice message if you want, but remember, I will never ever listen to it. Have a nice day!


And a hearty amen, too, to Alan Jacobs’ call for a year without meetings:

Extraverts love meetings — any possible excuse for a meeting, they’ll seize on it. They might hear others complain about meetings, but the complaints never sink in: extraverts can’t seem to imagine that the people who say they hate meetings really mean it. “Maybe they hate other meetings, but I know they’ll enjoy mine, because I make them fun! Besides, we’ll get so much done!” (Let me pause here to acknowledge that the meeting-caller is only one brand of extravert: some of the most pronouncedly outgoing people I know hate meetings as much as I do.)

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  • Antigone10

    I’ve seen this a lot on the internet, and I don’t understand it.  Why does everyone hate on the extrovert?  My social circle is nothing BUT introverts, and it means that as one of the only extrovert, I can never have any committed plans*, it’s hard to find anyone to do anything with, and I’m left feeling drained ALL THE TIME.  Work is not a time that I gain energy being around anyone- they are coworkers and customers and therefore the most draining thing on the planet.  I get it- you lose energy being social.  But I lose energy being alone, and seems like people just assume that since I’m an extrovert, that means I am also blessed with an abundance of social poise, grace, and skill and just find people to hang out with at any random club.  Uh, wrong.

    *I have been cancelled on more times than I can count with a “I’m sorry, I just don’t feel up to it.  I’m feeling super drained.”  And that is completely their right, as is not wanting to hang out some random day.  I’m not owed their time.  But, doing it over and over again is frustrating as hell.

  • Wingedwyrm

    I think it has to do with a stereotype or an extreme of extroversion rather than, well a person who could be described as extroverted.  We all have our moments of needing some human interaction and our moments of needing some quiet.

    But, a stereotypical extrovert is something like Archchancelor Ridcully of the Unseen University.  And, the extreme introvert is not unlike the Bursor.  For those who have not read the Discworld series, Ridcully is constantly trying to bring the Bursor out of himself, through exercise, through frightening him, through just plain yelling at him as though the Bursor just needs to learn how to relax.  Really, the Bursor just wants to do his job and work his numbers and have a peaceful day, which shouldn’t be too much to ask.

    This seems like it’s an exageration, but actually it’s a fairly accurate representation of the dealings of two extremes.  For instance, while I worked inbound telemarketing (that is, customer service for the phone company), no fewer than four seperate supervisors believed that yelling at the top of one’s lungs was not only not a problematic means of communicating across a center full of people on the phone, but also an effective means of motivating people to make sales.  Any attempt made by those of us on the phones to inform them otherwise were met with joking excuses (like “that’s just me”) that indicated that they just did not comprehend that there could be a problem with what they did.

    The extroverts (in the stereotypical extreme, but some actual people) viewed the introverts failure to be extroverts as the problem, and one that could be solved with applications of more pressure.

    Again, what I’m talking about is an extreme to a stereotypical (but, unfortunately not completely unreal) degree.  Far shy of that degree, but still extroverted, are the people who get their energy from being around people, who can enjoy a busy party all night, who really just feed off of that.  Nothing dislikeable there, I just envy them.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I’m an introvert & there’s no way I’d cancel on someone or fail to commit to an event until the last minute because I value being reliable. I find cancelling or refusing to commit rude and inconsiderate to the other person. I deal with needing lots of own time by going to bed very late, so I have a few hours after a social event to recharge.

  • Jon Maki

    Yeah, I’m much  the same way.  Introverts flaking on commitments strikes me as odd.

    Given my lack of interest in most social interaction, when I agree to do something or attend some event, I do so because it’s important to me.  Or rather, because the person(s) inviting me is important to me.

  • Antigone10

    They don’t mean to.  Most of the time they feel bad about it, because they actually wanted to see Movie X, or go to Museum Y, or go do activity Z.  But, they work jobs that they can’t always predict when they are going to be completely drained, and I respect that.  Like I said, I’m not owed their time.  

    But I’d just like a little sympathy on the fact that being an extrovert makes my life sunshine and roses.  I’d LOVE to be an introvert.  That would mean that I could generate energy doing things I enjoy doing (reading, sewing, writing) instead of it being something that slowly saps my energy.  Gaining energy being around people doesn’t make your life all sunshine and roses- it means I’m stuck relying on a lot on people more than I really would ever like to be.   Not to mention, I’m an extrovert that doesn’t really like “extrovert” activities.  I don’t like sports games, rock concerts, and things where there are five million people.  I like low key-events with a couple of friends.

    And then on top of that, I get called a bully, abusive, and selfish* just because I’m an extrovert.  (AND someone who likes meetings, which I think is just cruel.) I don’t think introverts are broken people, at all.  But I also don’t think I’m broken, either.

    *Although, really on the internet not in meat space, which I guess should be a sign.

  • Dave

    I acknowledge that being an extrovert doesn’t make your life sunshine and roses, and I acknowledge that there are some advantages of being an introvert that you would value having. 

    Do you actually mean to say that on balance you get fewer advantages from extroversion than you would from introversion?

    That would surprise me, if it were true.

  • Antigone10

    Me, personally?  Yes.  Because my interests are mismatched with extroversion, and I am a mild extrovert, so it has to be people I actually care to be around, rather than just “people” in general.  I don’t understand people that going to work where they deal with the public is ENERGIZING though I’ve worked with them so I know they exist.

    In general?  No.  There is a clear social preference for people who just gain and gain energy being around people insomuch as it makes them easier to gain social skills*, most jobs require you to be around people in some form or another, and there is a clear benefit when it comes to networking.   I hate meetings, and find them draining and a waste of time.  If just being around people slow saps your strength, I realize that everything that’s terrible about time-wasting meetings also goes up to “might kill my ability to get any work done for the rest of the day”.  And I also understand that most of our social interactions have a script that benefits introvert- the “let’s go to the bar and hang out for an indefinite period of time” is annoying to me, but again, it’s even worse for people who are getting more and more drained.**  Or the “if a person doesn’t talk to me, it must mean that they secretly hate you or something” that was the fodder for about five million sitcoms and half the advice column fodder. I really liked this comic, because I felt that it was a clear, concise way of re-writing social scripts to respect introverts-

     But, that doesn’t mean I still like being marred for being who I am.  Even the hamster ball comic had to get it’s swipe in about being an obnoxious predator.  I support the whole “internalize that I am different than you”.  The Ted talk about the Power of Introvert was nice, and I support greater understanding.  But I think it’s mean to be constantly telling me that I am wrong, bad person for something I didn’t really have a choice in being is not increasing understanding.  It’s being mean.

    *In the same way that if you get energy exercising means you’ll probably be in better shape.  There is no reason that this will necessarily be the case, and I most definitely don’t want anyone to think that all extrovert are socially graced, and all introverts aren’t.  **How does anyone do this?  How do you get anything done if there’s just a big block of time that has question marks at ending time?   I mean, I’ll go to the bar after a movie or something, but it’s normally “Sure, but only for an hour, I have to sleep” or “Sure, let’s catch dinner, but let’s get fast food because I have XYZ to do”.  I’m envious of people that just seem to be able to do stuff.

  • Dave

    Well, for whatever it’s worth, I don’t think you’re a bad person. And I’m not a fan of insulting people, and I endorse the stuff you endorse here. And I’ll take your word for it that the benefits you get from your mild extroversion don’t offset the costs, since it seems rude to do otherwise when I don’t know you.

  • Dana

    Your friends are rude to you. :-(

    If they agreed to go with you to something, they DO owe you not to cancel without a fairly serious reason (illness, emergency). I’m an introvert, and I get tired and want to avoid socializing, but even I know that. I guess I’ve still done it a couple times, but it IS rude, and being an introvert doesn’t excuse it.

    I mean, that doesn’t necessarily help you though. You can’t just trade them all in for new friends who won’t stand you up.

    But maybe they’ve picked up on your opinion that “they don’t owe me their time” and figure they can get away with it because you don’t really mind if they cancel on you–when the truth is that you do mind, but they don’t realize that. You could try gently mentioning that it makes you sad when you’d planned to spend time with them and they cancel. Or ask if there’d be a time when they’re able to really *commit* to coming, not just that they’re pretty sure they’ll be up for it then.

  • stardreamer42

     Hmmm. I consider myself to be a “gregarious introvert” — being “on” for large groups of strangers is wearing, but I don’t mind hanging out with people I know. But sometimes, if my partner is on the road, even I get tired of being home alone all day long. When that happens, I take my book or my laptop and go out to my local bubble-tea joint, which doubles as a study hall for a lot of the local high-school kids. I don’t have to interact with them, but it provides me with enough of the illusion of socialization that I feel better afterwards. Might something like that work for you?

  • Antigone10

    Thank you, but no.  Like I said before, it isn’t “people” it’s friends.  “People” meaning the group of strangers that exist in the rest of the world drain me.  I’m not gregarious- I am not great at going up to random strangers and generating some sort of relationship.  It has to actually be someone I’m in a relationship, or else it’s null to negative energy gain.

  • Lliira

    Yeah, the flaking-out isn’t an introvert thing. I think refusing to commit might be; everyone has a hard time saying no to a friend, especially an enthusiastic friend, and so “maybe” is easier than “no”. My (extremely introverted) mother invariably does this, and it drives me batty and has convinced me that whenever anyone says “maybe” they really mean “no”. 

    Antigone10, have you told your friends how hurt you are by their flaking out on you? If everyone else in your group is an introvert, they might not understand, because introverts can usually find a silver lining on being canceled on. (Unless our pants are in play.)

  • Ross


    I’ve seen this a lot on the internet, and I don’t understand it.  Why does everyone hate on the extrovert?

    Because extroverts run the Real World, and we’ll be damned if we let them take over the Internets too.

  • Lliira

    I have nothing against extroverts. In fact, I used to love them — they did the necessary business of making friends with me, so I didn’t have to jump that hurdle. And they had friends I could be friends with! The problem is that their style is considered good and healthy by society, whereas my style is considered something that needs to be fixed. (It makes me long to be Japanese… until I remember Japanese culture’s own issues.)

    My father is an extrovert to an extreme level. He’s calmed down a little bit in the last decade, which means he no longer needs to have a party every goddamn week. Now he is worried about me because I don’t have a googleplex of friends, like he does. But I’m only friends with people I respect, whereas he will be friends with pretty much anyone who isn’t a violent criminal. I also neither need nor want many friends. And I had enough of parties by the time I was a teenager, thanks to those parties at my house filled with people my parents’ age every goddamn week.

    Now that I’m older myself, I do duck a bit when I see an extrovert with the big “let’s be friends!!” grin coming toward me. I just don’t want that many friends. Also, I have never been able to get really close to an extrovert. But I have nothing against them, so long as they don’t treat me like there’s something wrong with me for enjoying a life consisting of husband, cats, books, and video games. 

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Meetings, Oh god. Meetings that should be over and done with in 15-20 minutes drag on and on and on because some people just can’t cut shit short. If I could wish for an alien encounter, it’d be during that frakkin’ meeting.

  • P J Evans

     Meetings run by people who have an agenda – literally; it’s printed and handed out – and have trouble keeping the routine stuff short so the rest of us don’t fall asleep (or play games on phones).

  • Antigone10

    And it sort of seems like a lot of meetings are completely superfluous in this day in age.  Like, if there is information that everyone needs, just send it in an email, and everyone can hit “Reply all”* if that information needs to be update.

    *Please, please, please only use “Reply All” if everyone in the group legitimately needs to be told.  Otherwise, just email the person you need to.

  • Isabel C.

    Yes! This!

    Why are you having a meeting to tell us the numbers for this quarter? They’re numbers. You can put them in a spreadsheet and send them to us. Likewise letting us know about whatever other departments are doing, who’s gotten promoted/retiring/having kids,* and so on, and so on. It’s especially egregious when they provide the slides as a file, because JESUS FUCKING CHRIST JUST SEND THE DAMN SLIDES.

    Some people won’t read them, it’s true. But those people? Not paying attention in the meetings either, I promise you.

    *Which: wish everyone the best, don’t actually care unless it affects my department, which it probably doesn’t. It’s work. I’m here eight hours a day to do my job and get a paycheck–my friends and family are elsewhere.

    Granted, my proudest moment in high school PE was looking sniffily at my teacher during a “trust building exercise” (and why are we teaching our teenagers to fall blindly backwards? This seems like entirely the wrong life lesson) and telling her that I do not “bond”, thank you. So I’m very much on one end of a spectrum here.

  • Dave

     For my own part, I’ve generally found that teams I’ve worked in that meet regularly to share updates, concerns, status, and interesting tidbits tended to have a much more cohesive feel, which made it easier to share information, back each other up, and help each other out. Which in turn made working on that team a lot more fun, and generally made us more productive as well.

    But, sure, if the meetings are unilateral (e.g., the only purpose is for the team lead to give the team members information and receive status), then I agree that the meeting is probably a waste of time and the information can be conveyed more easily in other ways. (Especially if I don’t really care if people attend to it as long as they’ve received it.)

  • AnonymousSam

    It’s even worse when the group insists on having a meeting and is almost constantly available to contact through group messenger protocols, such as IRC and Skype.

    “What shall we cover tonight?”
    “The exact same thing we’ve been talking about for weeks, but now it’s official: We’re going to talk about it.”

  • Antigone10

    Oh, I have a worse one-

    I work at a daycare/ Montessori school, and instead of just sending us an email with all the relevant information that we need, my boss like to do impromptu meetings with all of the teachers at once, while we are ALSO supposed to be doing our jobs of watching the kids, and have it be a good 20 minutes for 3 minutes of information.  Or, shall take one or two of us, give us some rushed information, and then expect it to percolate through the school.  

    It is so frustrating because she knows we all have email addresses.   If she would just send us an email, or print up a piece of paper with all the information in it it and give it to us, or at least for herself so she isn’t forgetting half the information in the first place.  If she insists on doing these meetings, we could get them done in 3 minutes, tops, if she had the information readily at hand.

    The biggest joy about not being in college anymore is the lack of group projects. Every once in a blue moon, I’d get a group where we all had our tasks, we went at them, came together and integrated them, and the project was better because we combined skills.  Most of the time, however, they were giant wastes of time that made me nervous about my grade.

  • AnonymousSam

    Mine struggles for weeks at a time just determining the time of meeting, and yet 90% of the people who attend the meetings are within each others’ presence at least 10 hours every day. The few exceptions to this rule? They don’t bother attending meetings either.

  • P J Evans

     My manager tried to schedule his big meetings for the Friday afternoons when the software had to be shut down for an hour or so while stuff was being done to the database. His were never boring, anyway.

  • Dan Audy

    In general, I don’t think anyone hates extroverts as a class (I certainly don’t) but many of us introverts loathe the way that the world is structured to the extroverts preferences (because they go out and get people to do it) and treats our preferences and desires as wrong.  As long as I can chill out in my ‘troll cave’ (as my wife puts it) when I’m drained and tired, go out for movie by myself, or read a book along at a restaurant I’m pretty content with letting other people live their lives the way they are happiest.   In terms of being the only extrovert in a social group of introverts, that is a pretty rough situation.  I would suggest a regularly scheduled group activity so that even if some of your social group pumpkin on you that you will still typically have people show up.  I have a friend who hosts a Friday night board game evening for a predominantly introverted social group.  There are around 10-15 regular attendees of which 4-8 will show up any given week which allows multiple different games to be played.  Another one I’ve participated in is a weekly B-movie Mystery Science Theatre 3000 style evening where we heckle and mock the show which works from just a couple of people to having a dozen show up and pile on the floor when you run out of seating. Another thing that might work (depending on how you swing) is a social experience like a dance class where you get a chance to be around and mingle with people even if they aren’t your preferred bunch.

  • Antigone10

    I think I’m going to have to try the “Just invite everyone and odds say SOMEONE has to show up” idea.  Surely couldn’t hurt anything :)

  • Arresi

    As an introvert the things that tended to work best: a) group outings to movies, shows, museums, or special parties – birthdays, holidays, mystery party (combines being difficult to reschedule with something I’m interested in and go to infrequently), b) spontaneous invites to lunch or to see something cool right then (quick and no chance to talk myself out of it), or c) extremely regular, low-key, one-on-one hang-outs (weekly meeting at a bookstore or coffee shop, for instance). Firmly established end-times helped, preferably allowing a bit of down time before I had to sleep or be somewhere else.

    The worst social interactions I’ve had have been ones that I couldn’t leave until someone else said we were done. Meetings, sure, but also events where my ride/host ignored my desire to leave, or (worse) the pre-set end-time. Anything that involves someone who will not shut up and let me leave when I start backing towards the door will be among the first things canceled when I’m feeling out-of-sorts.

    Don’t know if any of that applies to your friends or would work for you, but I figure it probably wouldn’t hurt. (You might especially try emphasizing the end-time, if you don’t normally. Not knowing when I’ll next get time to myself is probably one of the main reasons I cancel on people.)

  • Dan Audy

    So much truth with end times!

    Things that I’ll get pressured to stay past the end or that turn into a subsequent outing (like going to the bar or whatever afterwards) that I will get pressured on are events I am much more likely to cancel or avoid.  I have to meter out my tolerance of being in a group before I go and I’m generally happy (and able) to spend 2 or 3 hours with friends before I need to retreat for alone time.  If I can’t trust that I can get out after that time without getting hassled (which is exhausting and unpleasant) then I’m forced to decide if I’ve got 5 or 6 hours in me before hand and cancel if I’m not confident that I do.

  • P J Evans

     I hate group lunches and parties,where it’s going out to a restaurant. Noisy environment, made worse by having twenty people talking loudly at a long table (or two), even if it’s in a back room. I’d rather eat at my desk. (Which was sometimes handy: things would come up while everyone else was out.)

  • Jon Maki

    The worst part of most of the meetings I have to attend is that the people running them are terrible at running meetings.

    They can’t keep participants on task, they don’t actually understand what the meeting is about, they’re willing to let latecomers completely disrupt things (by insisting on being given a recap of everything that just happened in the past 15 minutes)…the list goes on.

    What really kills me is when there’s also a conference bridge for the meeting for remote participants, and the facilitator makes the mistake of thinking that he or she can multitask and tries talking to people while dialing into the bridge.  This invariably leads to incorrectly-entered codes resulting in the rest of us having to listen to the menu prompts over and over and over again.

    And then when the bridge is opened we’re treated to 5+ minutes of people tripping over each other to announce themselves.

    And so many meetings are just pointless status updates.  What the hell for?

    Unfortunately, there are a significant number of people who believe that their primary function is to facilitate meetings, and that the mere act of scheduling a meeting means that they’re being productive.

  • Amaryllis


    I repeat here what I said there: some of us can’t text or send email during working hours. And when I say some of us, I mean literally tens of thousands of us at my place of employment alone.

    Voice mail is awkward. Not being able to get a message to someone when you need to, is worse.

  • Jon Maki

    I don’t really have an issue with voicemail on my landline (I only have a landline because it’s part of my bundle), and I actually find the visual voicemail on my cell kind of entertaining.

    It’s the voicemail on my work phone that kills me.  I get angry every time I see that little red light lit up because of the hurdles I’ll have to go through.

    1.  Push the “Message” button.
    2.  Get asked for my password.
    3.  Realize that it’s been months since I got a voicemail and I don’t remember my password.
    4.  Find my password.  Enter it.
    5.  Get informed that I have to change my password because it’s been over three months since I last logged in, apparently.
    6.  Change my password.
    7.  Get informed that my password has been successfully changed.
    8.  Press “2” to review my messages.
    9.  Get presented with information about the message – when the call came in, what number the call came from (or if it’s internal, the name of the person who called), and how long it is.
    10.  Press “0” to finally hear the damn thing.
    11.  Get greeted with dead air and background noise because it was a wrong number or some robodialer.
    12.  Swear.

  • Marc Mielke

    You should be doing Step 12 after Steps 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, and 10 as well.

  • Jon Maki

    Trust me, I am, even though I didn’t call it out.  It’s actually Step 0, then it get integrated into the whole process. 

  • AnonymousSam

    For bonus points, you can’t use any password you’ve previously used in the last ten sets of passwords!

    I figure I’ve got about one more year’s worth of access to my account before I set the password to something that I’ll have forgotten before I hang up.

  • P J Evans

     At least the phone-mail password where I worked WASN’T changing every three months. And one of the ones that did never reminded you, so I was in the habit of changing it at the same time as the network password. Which is also why, like most of the other people, some of the less-important passwords were left on their default setting.

  • Jamoche

    Alt-11: Get 5 minutes of a technical description of a problem, none of which sinks in at all because you’re the sort of person who relates better to things you read or see than things you only hear.

    Though I never get to that stage because I have no idea how my work phone works. I’m a UI expert, I refuse to deal with bad UI. There’s a dozen extra buttons; none of them do what you’d think.

    My iPhone is dead easy, and I have an ancient answering machine at home – two buttons, dead simple.

  • Jon Maki

    Now that she’s gone I don’t run into this one anymore, but it used to be that 11 was frequently my boss saying, “Hey, swing by when you have a chance.”

  • Joshua

    As much as I still loathe voicemails in general, I have to say that Google Voice solves probably 90% of the problems with voice mail. Mainly by converting your voice mails into an e-mail-like format (or actual e-mails, if you choose that setting). Simply being able to see all your voicemails at once and select which one to listen to makes a marvelous difference.

  • stardreamer42

     That does sound like a good solution. Unfortunately, to implement it I would have to change my e-mail address (which I’ve had for over 15 years) to something on Gmail, and it’s not worth the hassle.

  • Becka Sutton

    You know the meeting problem exists in an organisation when they start talking about how to get the people who just sit there in meetings to interact and gel with the rest of the group. I’m quite chatty for an introvert but I don’t care to be forced to speak up.


  • Isabel C.

    I second the group-function thing: generally if one person can’t make it, someone else will.
    I’m a mild introvert–I enjoy hanging out with people I know, but need some alone time, and almost never enjoy meetings of strangers/mostly strangers/co-workers/etc*,  because…nothing in common, hate small talk, would rather be reading or watching something or hanging out with people whose company I know I enjoy. There can be exceptions there.
    And so I don’t mind extroverts in a social setting at all. Yay parties! Organize ’em myself from time to time, and so forth. I mind…I don’t know if what I mind at work  is extroverts, extroverts who have no friends outside work despite being extroverts, or extroverts who have decided to follow the spiritual path of the fifth grade room mother.  Either way, the quasi-mandatory at-work-socializing and/or “here’s what totally unconnected parts of the company are doing” meetings kind of makes me want to slay people, and I’m glad my current job isn’t so big on those.
    I mean, at least in fifth grade we got cupcakes for pretending to give a damn that it was Bobby’s birthday–plus, any break from long division was good back then.

    *Although I can become more enthusiastic if there are attractive men there. I’m a mild introvert who’s heavily influenced by my pants. ;)

  • Chuchundra

    With all due respect to John Scalzi, not everyone can send text messages. Nto everyone has a smart phone.  My mother-in-law, for example,  has an old dumb phone that she old uses for “emergencies”. I’m pretty sure that she has no idea how to send a text message with it.  If she wanted to send me an e-mail, she’d need to go into the back room, turn on the PC, wait for it to boot up and launch Live Mail.  

    Moreover, a lot of people who call you aren’t going to do anything but leave you a voicemail. The doctor, the vet, the bank, your kid’s school, and on and on.

  • Ruby_Tea

    And with more due respect, not everyone wants to pay for texting.  I pay for every text I send on my phone, so I don’t text.  Easy answer. 

    My family has “phone code” anyway.  My parents and I don’t mind voicemail, so we use it, even though it’s usually as simple as “call me back.”  My brother hates voicemail, so if he doesn’t answer, I just assume that he’ll see the record of the call and get back to me.  For all of us, if there is an actual emergency and no one answers, you simply call again immediately.  If the person was just busy, s/he knows to drop it and answer NOW.  If the person was away from the phone or at work or whatever, s/he’ll see the record of two back-to-back calls and know to call back NOW, not just “eh, when I’ve got some time to sit and chat.”

  • Ross

    I really hate text messaging myself. Though I also hate voicemail.

    (Also, I don’t have text messaging included with my cell phone account so a big chunk of my experience of text messaging is my ex girlfriend passive-aggressiving me out of a buck fifty in a little fit once every six months.  I don’t know if it’s still true, but I saw it reported once that text messaging was literally the most expensive form of communication in history, and that includes when “Write it on parchment and give it to a guy who then goes off on a galleon” was on the table)

  • stardreamer42

     In addition to everything you say here, we have texting DISABLED on our phones. Deliberately. Because we despise being forced to pay for junk texts.

    Now, under normal circumstances I’d just send an e-mail. But if I’m not near a computer, and I really need to get a message to someone, voicemail is what I’m going to use (because no smartphone). If Scalzi has the sort of lifestyle and social circle which allows him to get away with jettisoning his voicemail, more power to him. But not so much with the one-size-fits-all here.

  • Ursula L

    I’ve seen this a lot on the internet, and I don’t understand it.  Why does everyone hate on the extrovert?  My social circle is nothing BUT introverts, and it means that as one of the only extrovert, I can never have any committed plans*, it’s hard to find anyone to do anything with, and I’m left feeling drained ALL THE TIME.  

    Because the extroverts won’t go off and be extroverted by themselves but rather insist on dragging the rest of us into their extroverted activities.  

  • David

    Meetings:  if you’re lucky, one person states a problem and everyone else spends the next 90 minutes trying to avoid becoming responsible for solving it.

    If you’re not lucky, everyone spends a full two hours trying to avoid being responsible for stating the problem.

  • PepperjackCandy

    Is there something wrong with me?  I’ve had nothing but jobs that paid only a fraction of my living costs (the most I have ever made was in the mid $20s) and have been nothing but keeping my nose to the grindstone.

    I think that I would love a $50,000 a year job that requires me to sit in time-wasting meetings all day.

    Also, what is up with “extravert”?  I always think that it looks like one has at least one more vert than necessary.

  • Lori


    Is there something wrong with me?  I’ve had nothing but jobs that
    paid only a fraction of my living costs (the most I have ever made was
    in the mid $20s) and have been nothing but keeping my nose to the

    I think that I would love a $50,000 a year job that requires me to sit in time-wasting meetings all day.   

    There is nothing wrong with you. I’ve had jobs where we literally had meetings about meetings. I’m currently working at a job where I attend no meetings of any kind, ever. It pays less than half what I used to make, I have no benefits, I’m on my feet 7 1/2 hours a day and it was a good day if I leave work with none of my fingers bleeding. 

    If you told me that I could have my old salary and my old duties and just generally my old life back, but every week from now until retirement I would have to attend a 3 hour meeting about why our meetings aren’t more productive I would take that deal in a heartbeat. I’d show up to that meeting with a smile on my face and probably a box of donuts in my hand. Meetings suck, no doubt about it, but the kinds of jobs most likely to not involve meetings suck a lot more.

  • Jon Maki

    The thing is, though, that once you’re in a situation where some of the larger problems such as lousy pay, physical exhaustion, and so forth, go away (or are at least reduced) as you move into a better job, all of the little irritations in your new situation become sort of magnified.

    However, as much as I hate most of the meetings I have to attend (and the million other frustrations that come with my job), I still prefer it over some of the crappier jobs I’ve had – I would never willingly go back to working in a call center or grocery store, for example – and I am grateful for what I have.  But honestly, that can only take me so far.

    That is, it’ll make me go in there and do it day-in and day-out, but it’s not enough to get me to do it cheerfully and without complaint.

  • Lori

    The thing is, though, that once you’re in a situation where some of the larger problems such as lousy pay, physical exhaustion, and so forth, go away (or are at least reduced) as you move into a better job, all of
    the little irritations in your new situation become sort of magnified.   

    Oh believe me, I know. I complained plenty about meetings when I had to go to them.

    That is, it’ll make me go in there and do it day-in and day-out, but it’s not enough to get me to do it cheerfully and without complaint. 

    I totally get that and honestly, until this job I felt the same way. The bleeding fingers, the nagging fear that I’m getting arthritis in my hands and that my bad knee is getting worse and most of all the fact that I can’t afford to get my own apartment have changed my personal calculations a fair bit though.

    I have no doubt that after a few months back in meeting land I’d start complaining again. Because time-wasting meetings with idiots suck right out loud.  However, I’m pretty sure that a few minutes review of the current job and a brief, but stern talking to about it would be all that I’d need to fortify myself to just suck it up. At least for me, having had crappy jobs in the past is not at all the same thing as having had crappy jobs, getting out of them and into better jobs and then falling back into the crap.

  • banancat

     I’m young but I’ve worked at enough jobs to see a variety of different
    styles of meeting use.  And meetings aren’t just nice and relaxing
    things that you get paid to do because you still have
    to do all your “real” work, but with less time to do it.  And if you’re
    salary you don’t get paid overtime.  Meetings don’t take away from your real work, they take away from your real life.

    I had one job recently where I was the only engineer/scientist in the whole place and I had to do tons and tons of testing to solve several major issues with products that only existed because no testing was ever done in the first place.  And I spent at least 10 hours in meetings a week, mostly going to discuss how long the testing would take (exactly as long as I said yesterday) and if we could cut testing to get the product to customers (this is what made me quit that job after only 9 months).  At one point we literally had daily meetings about a project just to rehash exactly what we had already said 100 times before.  Yeah, I got paid $55k at that job, but it wasn’t anything that I loved because the problems and work didn’t just disappear during the time I spent in meetings.

    Where I work now, we actually do a very good job of using meetings wisely.  We have them occasionally because we do need them sometimes, but company-wide there is a strong emphasis on inviting exactly who is necessary.  That means not wasting time for people who don’t need to be there and also not excluding people who really should be there.  It’s not perfect but it does make things go a lot smoother if you just call in the bigwig right away instead of spending hours trying to decide how to solve a problem that they will have the answer to in half an hour.

  • SusannaFraser

    Ugh, meetings. Even if I only have to spend an hour or two in a meeting, it feels like it wrecks my productivity for the whole day by chopping up my schedule and ruining my focus. That said, I’m always happy to set aside time for my publisher’s quarterly conference calls. So I guess in my world meetings are OK when they’re about my passion as opposed to the stuff I do more or less contentedly day in and day out because Bills Must Be Paid.

    The other area where it strikes me that the work world increasingly favors extroverts is in how space is managed. Aside from a 2-year break when my daughter was born, I’ve been in the same large organization since 1999, with increases in pay and responsibility along the way. But despite the fact I’m in a significantly more prestigious position than I was when I started, I have LESS space and LESS privacy than I did in ’99. We’ve gone from a culture of private offices for almost everyone to cubicles to, in my current office, almost entirely open plan where even the managers don’t get so much as the semi-privacy of cubicle walls. They actually remodeled the space, tearing down every wall that wasn’t load-bearing. Some days I feel like I’m working in a zoo exhibit, there for all the world to see. I swear, I hope I’m a successful enough writer to quit my day job someday not just because I’d get to do what I really love full-time but also because it’s so exhausting to spend my days with so little peace and privacy.

  • Lori


    it’s so exhausting to spend my days with so little peace and privacy.   

    Open Plan is just evil. IME even most extroverts hate it and outside a few highly collaborative jobs it does not have the benefits that that its advocates claim and in most jobs it’s an active hindrance to productivity.

  • P J Evans

     The office I was in was open-plan, but it was also library-quiet most of the time. (Only a few people tended to be loud and annoying.) We also had a kitchenette where people could go to talk.

  • Lori

    Quiet open plan is obviously far better than loud open plan, but at least for me it’s still awful. I need my little bit of at least semi-private space where people can’t see me without making an effort, and vice versa.

  • P J Evans

    Most of our panels were about 4 feet high, with another foot of frosted glass. We also mostly had cubicles that were seven or eight feet square. (The people who mostly worked in the field had to share.)
    I could hear phones ring up to three or four cubes away, but they generally weren’t annoying. (When they renovated our part of the building we got new phones that were easier to use, except for having to listen to the damned phone menu.)

  • SusannaFraser

    The Open Plan in our office is part of a broader suite of changes that have, on balance, made our group more productive. That said, I feel like it’s gone too far, and that we could be just as collaborative with, say, cube walls.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Open Plan is just evil.

    [phb]Yes, but it makes the employees miserable, so it MUST be good![/phb]

  • fredgiblet

    One of the few joys of working in a call center is that we aren’t making money if we aren’t talking to customers.  That means the meetings are few and far between and when they do happen they’re short.

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip

    I don’t object to meetings in general. If my employer wants to pay me to waste time, that’s their call. They do kick my agoraphobia into high gear, though.

    I always listen to my voice mail. I can’t understand 2/3 of it, but I do listen to it.

  • Leum

    (Also, I don’t have text messaging included with my cell phone
    account so a big chunk of my experience of text messaging is my ex
    girlfriend passive-aggressiving me out of a buck fifty in a little fit
    once every six months.  I don’t know if it’s still true, but I saw it
    reported once that text messaging was literally the most expensive form
    of communication in history, and that includes when “Write it on
    parchment and give it to a guy who then goes off on a galleon” was on
    the table)

    Weird, the two major phone providers where I live both provide unlimited texting for about $6/month.

  • Nenya

    I can never decide if I’m an introvert or an extrovert. Mild extrovert, I think, but that point about needing set end-times is absolutely relevant. I’m getting a little better at saying “No, I have to go home now,” and using the excuse that, say, the buses will stop running in half an hour and I’d really like to sleep in my own bed (I love you, friend, but no, I don’t want to crash on your couch, I want to go home and putter online for two hours and then sleep and shower in my own space). But if I go for weeks without seeing said friends, I get antsy and weird in the head, and I’m definitely more of a people-person than my girlfriend. So I guess I switch between the two states. 

    I do feel for people who find text-messaging annoying or impossible to use, but for me it’s a delight and a relief, because it’s a completely mainstream, normal way to communicate that doesn’t make me feel weird for being almost deaf. Practically *all* my friends text, and if I only text rather than call, they don’t care. Whereas phone calls are stressful at best, and may or may not actually convey the information I need. Voice mail? EVIL, because I can’t even ask the person to repeat themselves, and probably won’t understand the name and number they leave! 
    But, then, I don’t have kids whose teachers or doctors I have to be in touch with, and I tend to email (or TTY) offices that I can’t visit in person, so some of the issues with communication between written-preference and voicemail-preference people don’t really apply to me. 

  • MaryKaye

    Flexibility is a good thing.

    We had the chance to dictate our own office space.  The blueprints showed a double row of cubicles down the middle of the room–we toured another office set up like that, and it was dark and unpleasant and had no conversational space.  So we removed two cubicles and distributed the rest around the periphery of the room in a complicated scalloped pattern (designed by my boss’ wife, who has excellent skills for this).  It was such a hit that there are now copies elsewhere in the building.  If you need privacy, there are two very private spaces.  If you are more social, there are more open cubicles as well as a table in the center of the space.  I have an office adjacent to this but I keep the door open except for phone calls, so people can come in and out (and I have the fridge, so they do).  It works pretty well.

    Our building is aggressively Open Plan except for senior people, but you can mitigate this by careful layout of what you’re given.  A word of advice:  if you are working with brand-new space try to get it laid out correctly right at the start.  Our building architects wanted to put in the two rows of cubicles and then “fix it later” but we refused.  Colleagues who didn’t refuse…had a hell of a time getting their requests met later.  And probably would have failed completely, except that one of the things that didn’t get done initially was the chair’s electron microscope room, and *that* put the issue on the radar.

    Also, architects should be forced to move their offices to the building they just built and stay there at least six months.  I think that would have stopped our architects from designing pigeon roosts on the west-facing side.  We TOLD them they were designing pigeon roosts; they brushed us off for esthetic reasons; we now spend $5000 a year removing poop from the west windows. 

  • Blaine Matthew

    Oh meetings. I swear, I’ve been to more meetings then any human being should ever have to partake in. As an activist, on the board of a nonprofit and being involved in city politics I have to be in meetings constantly. Some of the smaller meetings, with two or three people, have been semi productive. Larger meetings? Almost always a waste of time. And don’t get me started on “brainstorming sessions.” What usually happens? Two or three people take over the process and crowd out other ideas by tossing out an endless stream of BS and patting each other on the back for how awesome they are. I also loathed group projects in College. Several of my upper division PoliSci classes required them and I almost always ended up taking on the entire project because the other kids (and I realize I say that as someone who’s only a few years older than the average College student) didn’t know how to manage their time well.

  • Dave Pooser

    OK, I’m about to have my “IT guy” card revoked for this, but:
    Meetings don’t always suck. Yeah, they usually do, but that’s just another example of Sturgeon’s Revelation: 90% of everything is crap. If you have a team of people who are all working, and you need the group to reach a consensus, your choice is to make it a meeting that sucks half an hour out of everybody’s schedule or an email chain that gets responded to over the course of several days (because people are working, so Cy doesn’t send his brilliant insight until 8PM, and then Dave doen’t reply until 11:30PM because Civilization 5, and then Melanie doesn’t reply to Dave’s point until 9AM, and then Dave doesn’t read her response and reply until after lunch and…..). 

    Rands in Repose is a good reference for a lot of things at the intersection of IT and management, and one of his better columns is “How to Run a Meeting” (at — thank you Disqus for breaking hyperlinks to sites outside patheos)

    Meetings must exist, but meetings cannot be seen as the only solution for making progress. If you must meet, start the meeting by remembering the definition of a successful meeting is that when the meeting is done, it need never occur again.

  • rrhersh

    As has been noted by previous commenters, the problem is not extroverts per se, but the subset of extroverts who lack the wit to understand that not everyone has the same idea of fun as they do.  If such persons manage to get into positions of power, the mandatory FUN! they can impose on their victims can be excruciating. 

    Years ago I was a rack jobber.  These are guys who go into stores and stock certain sections, but who work for the distributor, not the retail store.  I went into WalMarts with books, music, and videos.  It was a much more interesting job when I started than when I left.  When I started the company’s attitude was that in many small towns WalMart is the only place for books, music, and videos, so they took pride in providing the best selection within the space constraints.  By the time I left they took pride in stocking just the fastest moving product, not wasting valuable space on slower moving titles. 

    The company had an annual all-company convention.  I’m honestly not sure why.  It clearly was a substantial expense, and I don’t know what they thought they were getting for this.  In any case, they had in the past had a problem with younger employees going out on the town drinking and getting into trouble, so they compensated by programming the entire day.  They would bus you from your hotel to the convention site in the morning and back again that night.  It was literally impossible to get eight hours of sleep on this schedule, and we were placed in noisy rooms with lots of people all day.  It was absolutely hideous.  I would literally sneak off to janitorial spaces to escape for a while.

    I am an introvert, but I am not the least bit shy.  I routinely voluntarily place myself in a position of speaking before groups of people, but only for an hour or so.  Then I can go off and recharge.  Back when I was working for this company, I didn’t know the vocabulary of introversion.  I think it would have helped, both so that I could understand my own reaction and to explain it to others.  The one time my supervisor dinged me was when I missed an event by staying in my room, because I just couldn’t face it.  He wasn’t a terrible boss.  He might have accepted the explanation, but I didn’t know how to make it.

    The last year I was with the company they had the convention in a different city.  This time the hotel was only about half mile away for the convention site.  This was much better.  I could make sure I went to every event, ensure that my boss saw me there, and also his boss, then I would walk back to the hotel and read a book.  The convention was still pointless, but at least it wasn’t hideously awful.

  • rrhersh

    On the topic of meetings in general, part of the problem is that the word “meeting” is used for several distinct activities. 

    One common kind is for information distribution.  These are almost always a complete waste.  There are some kinds of information that are best distributed by someone standing up and talking, perhaps with slides: but not many, and not many people can execute the presentation effectively.  On the other hand, communicating this information effectively in writing takes time and effort, and many people are incapable of doing it.  For them, calling a meeting is much easier and less time consuming.  In other words, such meetings exist purely for the benefit of the person calling it, while the time of the people attending it is considered of small importance.  Such meetings are quite properly loathed.

    Then there is the decision-making meeting.  These come in more than one variety.  If they are planning meetings from a more or less cold start, then they can be productive, but only in small groups and not even with all of them.  There are countless ways they can be hijacked, and the more people in the room the greater the probability of this happening. 

    Then there are decision-making meetings which serve to ratify a previous decision.  These are frequently awful experiences, but are often necessary.  By way of example, my church has a special congregational meeting coming up.  The sole item on the agenda is for the congregation to authorize the officers to take a loan.  This authorization is required under our constitution because the loan will be secured by a mortgage on real property.  This is the last in a series of conversations going back years, and really only ratifies a decision the congregation already made.  But it is necessary, both under our constitution and because the members need to buy into the process.  For a time it looked like we might have a choice between two different loans with very different terms, and with plausible arguments for and against either.  In the end, however, there is only one loan on the table, so the decision the meeting has to make is much simplified:  refuse the loan with obvious disastrous consequences, or take the loan.  If the meeting consisted of a room full of Vulcans it would take five minutes.  I will be happy if we get out in under two hours.  I am not looking forward to the experience, but it has to happen.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    One thing I devoutly intend to do is when I am in a position to call meetings I will always make sure they take half as long as the allotted time.

  • Dave

     > I will always make sure they take half as long as the allotted time.

    Well, that’s easy… just allot twice as long as they’ll likely take.

    Back when I managed my team, I ran weekly status meetings where we went around the virtual room, everyone summarized what they were working on, what milestones were upcoming, and what obstacles they were facing, and anyone who had useful advice/suggestions/whatever could chime in.

    Some weeks there wasn’t much going on, and it took fifteen minutes.

    Some weeks there was a lot going on, and it took an hour.

    I continue to endorse those meetings. Even the ones that took an hour.

  • LL

    RE voicemail: I had the VM function disabled on my cell phone entirely. I was getting spam voicemails several times a week about 6 months ago. I had to call Sprint 5 separate times and talk to 5 different people to make that happen. But since then, no voicemails. It’s awesome. 
    Scalzi is right, voicemail sucks. 

  • Robyrt

    The quality of a meeting depends strongly on how it is run. I am a big introvert, but I really enjoy an effective meeting. The trouble is that many managers do not know how to run a good meeting, either because they can’t summarize effectively, can’t put together a correctly sized invite list, or can’t put their foot down when someone tries to derail the meeting. When it all comes together, you can get real decisions made while getting input from the right people, and it is tremendously more effective than a long, officious, passive-aggressive chain of emails. For example, your daily status meeting should be 5 minutes long.

  • Otrame

    Vondage has a voice-to-text-to-email option, which means that I use that line for everything but personal stuff and doctors.  It works great.  I get emails with the voice mail transcribed and a file with the actual recording if needed (rarely, unless the person has a pretty thick accent).  

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I’m going to add my voice to the meeting defense. Bad meetings are bad, and arguable the majority of meetings are done badly, but anyone who suggests we should therefore eliminate all meetings en masse shows an attitude I don’t want around babies in bathwater.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    I know when I’m in a large group of people, I’m only good for an hour or two before I just want to go somewhere quiet and depressurize.  Even if it’s family, and I get along well with them.