Monday, March 7, 2011


My social life is probably 90% chatting with people on instant messenger. I actually don't know how to carry on a conversation without swapping hyperlinks. My friend Ronnie just dropped a link in my IM window to an article called "The power of lonely: What we do better without other people around" (By Leon Neyfakh). He quickly followed it with a imgur link to a rage comic, so I know what web site he's on. I don't even have to go to Reddit because my friends will send me all relevant links.

I spent two solid years as a hermit back in Beachton. I moved to Austin as a kind of experiment to try the opposite, to see if I could do it. Can I live in public? I tell you what, it is hard work. Most of these IM friends are people I made friends with during that time as a hermit. Most of them lived hundreds of miles from my isolated house in the woods. I nurtured written friendships sometimes for over a year before ever meeting in person. I lived through their interpersonal dramas, gave them sage advice and reveled in my simple life. Now I apply this same effort to people that live in my same town, including bugging them every single weekend to hang out with me. It's exhausting. I can get turned down up to 7 times for one event before I just go by myself and have a good time.

Since I got to Austin I've really made a serious effort to go out in public. I gave away my coffee maker so if I want a cup of coffee I have to go to Starbucks and face the public to get it. On a Saturday morning I still find it unnerving to be accosted by girl scouts trying to sell me cookies before breakfast. I am forcing myself to keep doing it though. I thought I would get more accustomed to it with exposure, but it's not working. I went to IKEA today, infested with hordes of people with small children. By the time I got to the exit I was ready to drive all the way back to Beachton. It doesn't help you have to go through the scented candle section to get out, which makes me extra mean. But I made it out of there and went to meet somebody in person I've only ever talked to online -- part of my regimen of reaching out. Then I drove back home and went straight to the greenbelt for a walk in the woods. At the end of my walk I saw a tiny sneaker on the ground. For a split second I thought of taking it home to display like a trophy. It struck me as funny on several levels, but then I realized that there were even more reasons it was in bad taste, plus it's got kid germs all over it. So I left it there. I predict that will be the last taboo. It will be cool to not like Jon Stewart before it will be cool to not like children.

But this was about this article about being alone. The last paragraph was to illustrate I REALLY don't like being around strange people, especially ones that take their kids everywhere. I have no problem being around people I have filtered for common sensibilities and I'm willing to go to a lot of trouble to make that happen. But I LOVE being alone. I'm really good at it. I started when I was very young.
Spending time alone....can look a little suspect. In a world gone wild for wikis and interdisciplinary collaboration, those who prefer solitude and private noodling are seen as eccentric at best and defective at worst, and are often presumed to be suffering from social anxiety, boredom, and alienation.
Yeah whatever. Maybe we just can't stand you and your growling dogs and your irritating kids and your goddam dryer sheets. I don't assume it means anything that my office mate says exactly 5 words to me every day. (First thing: "Morning." Last thing: "Have a good one.") If he has anything to convey to me he sends me a link on IM from across the room. Seems perfectly normal to me. (Aside: What is "private noodling"? Is he talking about the catfish thing or something else? In which case, Hey! That is PRIVATE!)
The latest Census figures indicate there are some 31 million Americans living alone, which accounts for more than a quarter of all US households. And at the same time, the experience of being alone is being transformed dramatically, as more and more people spend their days and nights permanently connected to the outside world through cellphones and computers. In an age when no one is ever more than a text message or an e-mail away from other people, the distinction between “alone” and “together” has become hopelessly blurry, even as the potential benefits of true solitude are starting to become clearer.
Ahh, they hit upon my secret -- the beauty of being all by yourself without being alone. It's a  treasure to be able to edit your friends down to people who can type fast.
...sharing an experience with someone is inherently distracting, because it compels us to expend energy on imagining what the other person is going through and how they’re reacting to it.
I hadn't even thought about this before. They go on to talk about going to movies with friends versus going alone. I have written reviews of movies I saw with friends, like Tron, as well as ones I've seen alone, Endhiran. Hell I talked about the other people in the audience both times. I enjoy going to live shows by myself with a mind to writing a review. (w00tstock, Patton Oswalt. I splurged on a single ticket to see Craig Ferguson next month so you can look forward to that.) I think part of why I get so stressed out about going out in public is because I can't hold myself apart from all those people. I do think about what they're going through, and it isn't limited to actual friends. I can't help it. I even project forward to stuff that hasn't and probably won't, but totally could happen. When I see a 4 foot tall boy pushing a lawn mower in flip flops I immediately envision severed toes and the horror of his parents realizing too late they should have made him wear boots. I FEEL what his parents will feel when that happens. And I have to make a conscious effort to figure the odds of kids who push lawnmowers in flip flops every day and don't get hurt and make myself think of something else.
...spending time alone can be a crucially nourishing component of life. And it can have some counterintuitive effects: ....people who are socially connected with others can have a hard time identifying with people who are more distant from them. Spending a certain amount of time alone, the study suggests, can make us less closed off from others and more capable of empathy — in other words, better social animals.
So wait, this is saying that I have this irrational empathy for strangers BECAUSE I'm not socially connected? Well shit. That kind of makes sense. I still don't know what to do about it though. Trying to establish a social network at this point in my advanced state of misanthropy is a huge challenge. I am determined to stick with it until I have failed a statistically significant number of times. A PhD at my old job told me that meant 15 data points, so that's what I'm going for. I'm over halfway there. She was talking about trace metal water quality data though, so if somebody has a better number for studies involving social rejection let me know.

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