Extroverted and introverted. Black and white. Night and day. Increasingly it would seem we are drawn to put ourselves in social boxes, and draw neat squares that tally our personalities perfectly. The Myers-Briggs test is often praised for its ability to do that very thing, as if a computer can understand us better than we know ourselves. Yet it’s always been apparent to many people that we are in fact influenced by varied aspects of our personalities and our surroundings.
It is this very topic that draws us to the idea that we can often find more company in silent libraries and solitary cafes than we find in crowded lecture halls, surrounded by people that we see once a week. Maynooth is one of the smaller college campuses and is often praised for the community aspect that the university offers. Yet there can still be an aspect of comfort to sit alone at one of the single desks by the library windows and gaze outside on a rainy day.
There are ways to find happiness in solitude that are far removed from the anti-social portraits of ‘loners’. Yet often as we sit alone at lunch tables for longer than five minutes, we self-consciously wonder if that’s what we look like to those around us. If someone glances at us as they go past we check ourselves. If a group laughs when they walk by we immediately think that they’re laughing at us. Anxiety sets in, and before long even the most innocent bystander is suspicious.
For many people who suffer from anxiety, depression, agoraphobia and a host of other mental and physical diseases solitude is not only a choice but a way of life. The internet allows all of us to spend as much time as we like alone with our thoughts while still exploring the world around us. And while there’ll always be people who argue that there’s no replacement for fresh air and talking to people in person, I’ll be too busy curled up at home to hear them.