The Benefits of Social Isolation
When you’re accidentally spilling coffee all over yourself, there’s a reason everyone’s ignoring you.
By Lauren Diethelm, University of California, Santa Cruz
As is the case with most college students, I ride the bus everywhere.
There are a lot of reasons I haven’t gotten myself a car yet, the most glaring of which is I don’t have enough of my soul left to sell for the expenses associated with ownership, but one of the upsides of public transportation is the prime people-watching opportunities it presents and the insights it offers into the psyche of the college rider. (Read: the busses in Santa Cruz are completely horrible, and I’m making the best of a bad situation.)
I don’t know what it is about the bus that makes people anti-social to the extreme, but I take the same bus to work every morning with the same people, and we never have and probably will never will interact. Today I sat next to a man who works in the same building as me, and we know each other—we’ve actually had a conversation about the fact that we take the same bus, wow, how weird is that—and today I sat right smack next to him in those stupid too-close-together seats and we smiled hello, and that was it. It was a fairly long bus ride of silence, and we both knew that we know each other and that we should probably have said something, and we both decided to do exactly not that.
This kind of interaction is routine for me, especially during the school year when the Santa Cruz Metro may as well be called the UCSC Student Shuttle. The busses become filled with people that I’ve had classes with or that lived in my building freshman year, and I don’t talk to any of them. In my defense, though, they don’t talk to me either, because that’s just not what you do. Once your headphones are in and your butt is in the seat, you have no social obligations to anybody except the bus driver, who you thank when you get off the bus, who raised you?
I have a few theories about why my peers and I apparently collectively decided that riding the bus is a personal rather than a group activity, and the first is that it’s just easier.
The bus ride offers twenty or so minutes where no one will find it rude that you would rather not talk to them because they would really rather not talk to you either, and you all can just sit quietly or nap until you’re forced back into the noise and craziness that is college life. My other theory, which is slightly more substantial, is that we’re all just a bunch of anxious assholes.
Generally, I would not advise people to google anything that requires them to type “millennial” into the search bar, because there are only so many times a person can read about millennials relying too much on those damn smartphones and how a lack of family structure is ruining American youth before they start to go crazy.
That being said, I did not follow my own advice (bye, sanity) and I did some research on millennials and anxiety.
Some fun facts: Millennials are more anxious than preceding generations and the American College Health Association found that nearly 55 percent of college students admitted to feeling “overwhelming” anxiety sometime within the last year.
These facts do not surprise me in the slightest, but they do confirm what I thought, and who doesn’t like validation? Today’s college students are the only group of people I know who can say things like “Do I really need both kidneys, because I have to make rent,” and only be partly joking, and if that isn’t cause for anxiety, then I need my kidney back.
I’ve never been formally diagnosed with anxiety and I don’t think I officially have it in such a way that I would need medication or anything, but sometimes I do things that make me think I might have an imbalance, at least a little bit. Like the fact that I don’t drink any water when I fly because I’m terrified of not getting an aisle seat and then I would have to ask someone (or worse, two someones) next to me to let me out to pee, and I just don’t think I’m capable of doing that. That said, ultimately I know rationally I will have to ask those people to move, because eventually, I will have to get out. We cannot live in bubbles of not-having-to-talk-to-people-ever, as nice as that would be, and so we evolve.
I said before that people don’t interact on the bus because it’s easier not to, and it is, definitely, easier to stand than it is to ask the person next to you to get up, please, and let you out at an earlier stop. The mustering of will before such an act is huge, I know. It’s easier to ignore that person you know from Stats than it is to have an uncomfortable conversation with them, but eventually the only person you’ll talk to will be yourself, and we all have to move on from that point sometime.
The beauty of everyone preferring to be in their own little bubble all the time is that they prefer to return to it super quickly. No one is going to keep thinking about that fact that you tripped walking to your seat or that you stuttered when you asked them to pull the cord, even if you think about it for the rest of the week. I’ve been sticking with the bus metaphor probably to the point of annoyance but bear with me, because it applies to everything.
Nobody wants, first of all, to focus on your humiliation, because it reminds them of their own, and secondly, they might not have even noticed whatever embarrassing thing you did, because they were probably on that damn smartphone anyway.