I do not like the word “solitude”. To me, it implies that you are doing something intentional, goal-oriented, and temporary (perhaps because of its association with structured religious exercises?). And, since it’s the only positive word for alone-ness we have, it has the effect of shaping the limits of what kind of alone-behavior is acceptable. This emphasis is reflected in the research I’m involved in. Besides my personal, petty annoyance with some social interactions, our society’s conception of alone-ness has terrible consequences when applied to individuals with autism, for whom social interaction is non-intuitive and outrageously stressful (in extreme cases). There’s a sense in which our society links alone-ness with selfishness, and it privileges social gestures like smiles and compliments and physical touching as ways of demonstrating that we care about other people. Individuals with autism have particular difficulty recognizing or reciprocating these face-to-face signals of compassion, but many of them nevertheless care deeply about what others think of them. (People with autism tend to like exchanging gifts, doing someone else’s chores, playing video games with others, or other activities that are social but don’t involve face-to-face interaction.)
Apparently, I’m very exercised by this issue! I will surely tackle this issue more rigorously and coherently in a future post.