OM239 - Hikikomori

This week, Ken and John talk about:

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John being an introvert (OM239)

John calls himself a socially adept introvert despite being a hail fellow well met and a good-time Charlie at gatherings large and small. His dad was an extrovert and his mom is a pretty serious introvert. Watching them as a kid and seeing the ease with which his father moved through the world and contrasting it with the obvious struggle that his mom had, he learned pretty early that he should adopt his father’s mannerisms.

Like his dad John walks into a room and says: ”Hello!” and even though nobody in there knew him before he just presumed that he was welcome everywhere. Most rooms full of strangers do welcome someone who is hale and hearty, if nothing else then because it is better than somebody who walks in and pulls a gun out from under their coat.

The microphone is the introvert’s friend. If you are comfortable in a room full of 3 people, but not in a room full of 8 people, it gives you a chance to be in front of everyone and be social, but at the same time be protected by the shield of the microphone.

A lot of people have a difficult time understanding that John considers himself an introvert, but he prefers to be alone. Interacting with other people is a drain and after doing it for a pretty concentrated few hours he becomes exhausted and depleted. Even Ken’s company drains him as if Ken had put a little syrup tap into him and is taking all the syrup out of him. It is why he likes taking long baths so much because it is a place where he knows he will be left alone. He lives by himself in his own home and if he is not careful and doesn’t accept invitations he can sometimes be several days since he saw a person or talked to a person, which feels unhealthy.

The longest John has been alone was probably when he walked from Amsterdam to Istanbul, which is always his answer to everything (see The Big Walk) because he would go a few days without ever speaking to anyone. You don’t notice what that does to you until you do speak and your voice croaks when you pass somebody on a country lane and you are like: ”Dober dan!” and you realize you haven’t been speaking to another person for longer than you would be able to do if you were in a city. In a way John was alone for 6.5 months. He met people along the way, but he didn’t have any familiar company and he didn’t spend every night in Youth Hostels hoisting pints with people either, but he was sleeping outside.

John found a lot of insight in solitude, the enlightenment of the hermit. You get into a state of forced meditation, but unfortunately it was an undisciplined meditation without applying a technique of meditation that had been practiced and honed by monks around the world, but it ended up being months and months of approximate meditation. He definitely arrived at states that people describe as meditative. After weeks and week of silent meditation you get to a place where you have a real clear picture of the voices talking in your head and you can see and hopefully quiet them.

John was engaged in that process, but he had a very antagonistic relationship with the voices in his head and himself. He should probably have had a little handbook or he maybe even should have brought Siddhartha with him and read it every night. This was 1999, so he couldn’t just quickly download some yoga/meditation MP3, but he had to check the Internet at grocery stores, sitting down at a little kiosk and putting 4 Deutschmarks into a box. There were Internet cafés, but they were for gamers and there were all these people with headsets on playing games even then.

Ken being an introvert (OM239)

Ken is cut from an introverted cloth and he is less able to do the impression of the hearty fellow. He self-identifies as an introvert all the way down, but he doesn’t like to be alone either and prefers small groups of known people. This is the great thing about a long-term monogamous marriage: There is always somebody there and they really don’t care if you are on and have any good material because they know you don’t and it has been a decade since you had anything interesting to say.

One of the benefits of marriage that people try to sell John on all the time is that you don’t have to die alone, not so much the moment of the death, but imagining the decline alone. John really hopes he will die alone! He doesn’t want anybody looking at him and watching him while he is dying because he will have his dying to do. You want a low-impact buddy for several decades which is what Ken calls his beloved spouse, and then you can walk out into the ice flow. Having a bit of a sounding board, an audience, somebody puttering in the background, someone to be a person for, but not have to be performative keeps you from going crazy to. John jokingly remarks that this role is played by God for him: A low-impact buddy that you can talk to.

John having a 28 hour day cycle (OM239)

It has been a major struggle in John’s life that his natural day is different from 24 hours and he was made to live in a world with a 28 hour day. If he were on his natural cycle he would stay awake for 20 hours and then sleep for 8 hours, while now he stays up for 20 hours and sleeps for 4 hours in order to make it back into the world. Left alone with no outside obligations he would get on a different cycle and when he wakes up and when he goes to sleep has nothing to do with the sun or the day, but Ken knocking at the door gets him saying: ”Oh, it is 10am!” Ken doesn’t have time to do that every morning anymore.

Ken also delays bedtime, but he has never thought of it as perhaps being an alien from a distant world. He always just assumed it was something psychological about him, like a fear of death or putting off bedtime.

John has lived in conditions where he had nothing to do and nowhere to be tomorrow for weeks at a time and no-one was governing him, so he was just able to sleep and wake when he chose. Invariably his days would stretch and he would be living in a state where wakefulness and sleeping would combine to more than 24 hours per John-day. Unfortunately there is no planet in the solar system with a 28 hours day.

Mars is the closest with almost 25, but you would only gain 37 minutes of sleep a night and you have to live on Mars, which has some other downsides. The radiation profile on Mars makes it less interesting for John to live on Mars. Futurama has a 28 hour day and John feels very much at home in that show and identifies with Bender.

John planning to go to Japan, wanting to be invisible in crowds (OM239)

This spring John was planning to go to Japan for the first time. He has never been and has been really shy about it because of his introversion: Japan is bustling and John will stand out like a sore thumb. When he was younger he was traveling extensively overseas and any time he was in a place where he attracted attention just by standing there it made him uncomfortable like a fish out of water.

He always pictured himself in Tokyo just trying to stand and be anonymous, but being like a beacon, and it actually inhibited him from visiting Asia, imagining it was worse than all his other fears. He wasn’t worried about the food or about violence or any kind of danger, but the most pressing danger was the inability to be invisible under any condition. It is like being on the JoCo Cruise: Any time you walk out of your cabin you are on.

John should just get a big Totoro fur suit when he goes to Japan and he will just be a giant friendly forest spirit and the Japanese won’t think twice, like Adam Savage at ComicCon. He is extremely excited to go to Japan because he has to get over this and just go and throw himself in and he will be fine. Ken got over it when he was 7 years old. When living in Korea you are just a blond child getting poked at and teased all the time. All children should be dropped into a racially different monoculture when they are in second grade, just to get used to being looked at and get used to being the distinctive minority.

In Japan John does not physically fit anywhere, not even through the doorways. He is not a Polar Bear, but closer to a Polar Bear than Ken is. The Japanese are getting taller because they are eating Macaroni and Cheese and TAB, the two things that made John tall as well. His Welsh cousins are all short at 5’4” (163 cm) because the Welsh apparently don’t have nutrition. It might be because they started working in the coal mines at a very young age and their heads bumped the ceiling and God stopped them from growing.

John had never been more invisible than that one time he stepped off a train in Stockholm and walked into the train station. Even in Seattle he is still a tall big white guy, but in Stockholm he was absolutely the mean average. He was not handsome, he was not tall, he was not big, he was not stylish, he was not cool, he wasn’t anything and he was absolutely the average person, a thing he had never felt before in his whole life and it was an incredible relief.

Ken feeling socially isolated after coming back to the US from Korea (OM239)

For Ken this is a left-over from High School: He doesn’t want anyone to look at him or notice him because what if they make fun of him? He doesn’t suffer from depression, though. The one time he was closest was related to social isolation, and although it didn't feel like depression at the time because he didn’t feel sad in hindsight he is not sure.

When he moved back to the United States for his freshman year of college at the University of Washington he knew nothing about living in the US and felt very out of place with these kids that had normal High School experiences in Wenatchee, Everett and Spokane, which is as normal as you can get with whip-its in a 7-Eleven parking lot! It was the heart and center of the Grunge-period and there were a lot of cool kids at the University of Washington and Ken loved the contact-high of that, but maybe he was just frustrated by the fact that it was not filtering down to him.

He had friends in his dorm. He also realized the Internet existed in late 1992. There was no World Wide Web because it was still the Internet dawn, but the University of Washington gave everyone an email account and computers which had never had anything good for his entire life suddenly had amazing good and social stuff, all those newsgroups devoted to Rubik’s cubes and X-Files, and he could keep in touch with his other friends who were scattered all over the country in Universities.

As a result he spent way too much time in fluorescent-lit computer labs and the more he did it the less he wanted to hang out in front of the TV with the guys on his dorm floor. He would just take the back stairs and people would wonder who that guy was who never even took the elevator. What was his deal? Is he a computer science major who died 20 years ago this very night? Ken didn’t even feel depressed, but he was certainly isolated in a way he has never been before or since and it wasn’t great for him. He is not blaming tech. You don’t feel a lot of fulfilment from surfing the web or watching TV.

Living as an avatar in the future (OM239)

For many people their entire social life is on the web, but they still manage to piece together an active life within the community and they go to work, for instance. John has been predicting for several decades that you would one day inhibit an avatar with all the trades you would choose for yourself and that avatar will be representing you in the world. It seems like Science Fiction, but it is already happening all the time. SnapChat or Instagram filters are going to become a real-time heads-up display and you will be able to choose how other people see you through their SnapChap glasses and you can appear as a little Bunny Foofoo anywhere you go.

People who opt out of that reality will be the equivalent of today not using someone’s preferred pronoun. Seeing somebody’s real appearance will be like nudity. It will develop social divides and if you refuse to wear the goggles and see the people as they prefer to present themselves, you will either have to live in a separate community or be regarded as a heretic.

This will become a city-rural divide. We already have that today, but now only attractive people get a special world and in this future ugly people who choose a nice attractive avatar and have other good qualities will have the same bubble as people with genetic gifts. We imagine it will be democratizing, but in fact it never is because it will cost money to have super-cool avatar qualities.

John wanting people to be nice to him (OM239)

John’s baseline in recent years has become: ”Please be nice to me!” after years of seeking out people who were not nice to him. Now when someone is not nice to him for no or small reasons he might even ask the person to please be nice to him or stop not being nice to him, which seems so simple: "Just be nice!" On the other hand: What John really wants is a mean girl to be nice to him.

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