So that’s why I can’t stand people

by Seanba on May 24, 2010

By programmer standards, I think it’s fair to say I’m a fairly social guy. I imagine most people I’ve worked with would say I’m a friendly, approachable guy – perhaps even a bit extroverted.

I figure that’s mostly due to enjoying my work so much and because, at the office, we tend to share the same goals and interests. But people who meet me outside of work, especially those who know me primarily as “Christy’s husband”,  tend to think I’ve got a some issues. Pretension is a common complaint.

Pretension demotivational poster

But it’s nothing personal, I just have a very difficult time to talking to you.

I wasn’t always like this, but thanks to Scott Adams’ entry on Brain Management, I think I know what happened: my career as a software engineer.

During one period of my life I wrote a number of computer programs that involved intense manipulation of objects in my mind, for hours each day. I discovered that it was difficult to be social at night when my mind had been manipulating object during the day. It felt as if I were deep inside a cave and yelling to the people who stood at the cave opening. It seemed as if the practice of programming interfered with, or exhausted, the part of my brain that handles social skills.

(Emphasis is mine.)

I often thought I just grew up in my mid-twenties and got into computer programming because it fit my new mental state – but now I’m thinking that perhaps the act of programming has changed me. I certainly do find people utterly exhausting at times, especially when the working day is done.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen Bullard May 26, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Thought I’d drop my two cents in because this was bugging you. Over the years I’ve been researching the brain’s functions and here are some facts that might help you out.

The act of thinking makes us tired – literally. We use about 5X the amount of sugar when we think (say, program) than if we were to simply watch TV. This causes all sorts of havoc with your brain processes afterward – including things like judgment and sociability. So you shouldn’t program and then make life-altering decisions because you’ll go with whatever is ‘easiest’. And you also should have a meal and some rest prior to meeting up with family/friends. Going out *after* dinner is better than going out *for* dinner.

Plus, switching from a full day of working the Left Brain your poor Right Brain isn’t really ready to kick in the social stuff. The Right hasn’t finished processing the emotions of the day (that’s what the Right Brain does). The overworked Right Brain will kick out ‘grouchy’, so he can wrap up the day’s processing. (There are more technical neurochemicals involved, but you get the point) Being an adult you decide that being quiet or withdrawn is a better way to go than snappy and rude.

People who are ‘introverted’ are better at using their Left Brain than their Right Brain, hence programmers tend to be less social than everyone else. Despite being more social and talkative than most other programmers I’ve met – you still aren’t what I could call a true extrovert, just not a full-time introvert. 😀 Extroverts, for example ,LOVE to walk into a place where they know no one and make friends with everyone.

For what it’s worth I never thought you were pretentious. 🙂


Seanba June 1, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Thanks, Jen. BTW, have you read Pragmatic Thinkings and Learning? I finished it recently and thought it was a great read on left brain / right brain kind of stuff (or how the author writes it, linear mode / rich mode). Judging from your comment it seems you might like it.

I agree, I wouldn’t label myself a true extrovert by any means – but at least I’m not as bad as most programmer type guys. 😉

Jen Bullard June 14, 2010 at 9:26 am

Ian has a copy of the book and it’s on my reading list. I read through part of it a while back and got sidetracked. It is definitely geared towards engineers!

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