September 22, 2019

Does social vitality have a limit? Does vivacity strengthen, like a muscle, or is energy for socialising a finite resource?

I’ve never liked the question, intended to divide the introverts from the extroverts, of whether one gets one’s energy from other people or from being alone.

I suppose it’s because it seemed so obvious that everyone needs some mixture of both. It’s like asking whether one gets more energy from fat, from protein, or from carbohydrates. Different combinations are possible, and there’s not really one right answer. It could vary over time. And nobody eats only one macronutrient to the exclusion of the others.

But that’s not to say every diet is balanced. Socially, too, one can veer too far to one side or the other. After a week of isolation I’m dying to talk, and after a week of conversation I’m dying for solitude. At different times I’ve needed and wanted different amounts of social contact.

I can tell when I’m overdoing it, though it doesn’t always stop me. Yesterday I wrote, critiqued writing, met a dear friend, bumped into another, then attended a party that had me speaking into the wee small hours of the morning. Something like twenty hours of talking. Today I’m unable to do or say much.

Perhaps it is like physical exercise: after exertion, rest is required for recovery, but afterwards one comes out stronger.

But on the Camino, on the second day of five, I felt exhausted, with pain in my feet and legs. The third day was easier. And it continued to get physically each day. It was as if the body adapted to what was required of it.

I’m not convinced that socialising constantly would result in a similar adaptation. But perhaps salespeople, or others who must be “always on,” do manage this.

Bryan Kam

I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter or see more here.