I think I’ve slightly underestimated the value of everyone else in the world. For the longest time I enjoyed being alone, by myself, without the company of other people. I connected the dots and concluded that having close friends wasn’t the thing for me and if folks like Thoreau could live alone in the woods and make something successful of it I could too. Maybe instead of writing a book I could write some cool code or something.
After a fairly lengthy period of observation, I’ve concluded that don’t I derive the satisfaction or enjoyment I do from purely being alone, living on a planet devoid of other humans wouldn’t be pleasant in the least, but rather I enjoy taking substantial breaks from people that compromise humanity. The reprieve is what I’m actually enjoying, a chance to relax not worrying about how others are going to perceive me or the opportunity to rest my ears and just listen to the silence. The contrast is appealing, much like people enjoy entering an air conditioned house in the summer. If it’s cold outside and cold inside it’s not nearly as refreshing.
To qualify my statement of a “fairly lengthy” observation slightly, I’ve been living by myself since my Junior year at RPI. For the past 10 months or so I lived practically alone on the west coast of the US, and for the past week I’ve been completely alone in Australia. There’s a bit of a progression here, but I’m optimistic I won’t find myself moving forward as the sole occupant of a space craft destine for a planet anytime soon (though that sounds intriguing). During my time at RPI I lived alone and spent a significant amount of time in my dormitory or apartment, people thought my behavior was strange when I’d decline invitations or intentionally seclude myself (I’m a pro at leaving a group before a social gathering is about to begin). As terrible as it may sound I enjoyed taking a break from others and would avoid lots of social situations likely due to the high amount of situational stress it might place on me. That’s a very fancy way of saying I don’t like being around people all the time because I end up exerting a lot of energy trying to look like I fit in.
When I was at RPI I wasn’t always alone though, aside from classes (which I never really counted) I interacted with others through activities like RPI TV filming Student Senate meetings and being a member of the WTG and collaboratively working on cool web projects. I didn’t go out to eat with people every night (in fact I rarely did), but I could spend a few hours each day interacting with folks in a fairly comfortable hybrid of a social and professional environment.
Transitioning to life after RPI I “work” a lot more, and I count work in the same category as attending classes as not-really-inter-personally interactive activities. Sure, I briefly interact with folks at the lunch table, during a weekly meeting, or engaging in the transactional email, but I rarely discuss things of interest or engage in any collaborative efforts. Working together involves late stage integration or, reviewing the work of others. Most of my teams effort is through individual tasks where little to no interaction with other people is necessary, in fact the more people you have to interface with to do your job the less efficient you are at it (there’s a clock in play). Paired with the lack of a social life outside of work (one of my known weaknesses) I’ved started to feel increasingly lonely.
Sure, I talk to people back from RPI online at night and we’d chat about X or Y but that’s an extremely limited interaction. I’m all for instant messages instead of phone calls or in-person contact (I often prefer these sort of methods that support slightly more pre-meditation), but sometimes it’s nice to have a significantly lower barrier of entry where you needn’t punctuate your thoughts by <enter> keys. I’ve also been in a relationship for a fairly long period of time which usually confuses people via the logic <relationship != lonely>. The cop-out reasoning is that I’ve been in a long-distance relationship limited by the same factors that limit anyone interacting with someone a distance away, but fundamentally these aren’t as mutually exclusive as they seem.
Being on a continent where I know 0 people (or perhaps 0 people know me) pushes all this to an extreme. I’m out of timezone making it challenging to have reasonable contact with anyone that I might usually. I’m not technically impressive enough at work to warrant anyone taking a notice of me, and my limited social skills means that longest conversation I’ll have with anyone outside of the office will be ordering food. If this happened during my tenure at RPI I’d be like hooray, a few days away from everyone to catch up on all this email and write all that code I’ve been thinking about but I’ve done that all months ago. I haven’t sufficiently fulled up a quota of work to do to comfortably occupy myself devoid humanity.
I think little kids have it easy, they can shout “will you be my friend” at someone and have a decent chance of getting a response; especially if that person is of a similar age. People would think you have a mental condition if you said that at my age, and I believe the slightly more socially acceptable thing to do is propose you “go out for drinks” or something like that. I don’t drink which makes it kind of strange for me to ever propose such a thing, when I’d really be saying is “do you want to go out for drinks even though I’m just going to have a soda, I figure there’s a decent probability you consume alcohol”. If you’re invited out for drinks I think you can miss expectations and avoid the actual drinking part, but if you’re the person doing the inviting that’s a bit stranger. I also don’t have anyone who I’d propose this to so this paragraph is moot (i.e. I’ve concluded anyone I’ve interacted with has a sufficiently full social life to have no existing quota for me).
Had I been more outgoing in college I would have likely gained experience in the going-out-with-friends category but instead I focused my efforts heavily on programming projects and alike. I think at some level I like to think the two are, can, or will be connected but more on that later.
Good night moon.