When was the last time you truly had some time just to yourself?
I was thinking on this topic as I was sat on a bus, at 08:25, two thirds of the way into my morning commute. Usually I am on the bus half an hour before this one, but I have been working in another department - different starting times.
I was sat looking out of the window. Sat ahead of me was a mother with her three children, one in a pram, all trying to make the most noise. To my left was an older woman, who was comparing notes with her equally old equally womanly companion about who was alive or dead from their school days.
As we went across a set of traffic lights I found myself meeting the eyes of a man sat alone in his car. He was smiling.
It occurred to me at that moment that it is difficult to simply...be alone.
"But John," I hear you yell, hanging out of the windows of your octagonal residences upon the back of your gelatinous god. "But John, you can be alone any time you want! And besides, people hate being lonely!"
I'm not really speaking about loneliness. I am more speaking about something that I am very keenly aware of, being an introvert: the requirement of having time to one's own self, to not have to deal with the draining business of being around others.
Average rent and average pay being what it is, it is difficult - if not impossible - to rent a home alone. Not unless you don't eat, or similarly lack the need for any utilities. Far more likely that one will share a home, mortgaged or rented, with other people. Now, for any of my housemates reading this - I love you, but it means that alone time becomes a friggin premium grade resource, when there's more than two of you in a building.
Then there is the aspect of travel. Owning and running a car, and driving only yourself wherever you need to go, is...actually kind of expensive, if you compare how much the monthly costs (and the cost of instruction, testing and purchasing a car) run up to alongside a bus pass. What this means, though, is constantly sharing your travel space - the time spent on the way to and from the place of work is almost always occupied by other people as well, waiting for the transport, riding it, making the last hundred yards on foot. Always, always surrounded by others.
You get to work.
Who gets their own office? That's managerial only, I daresay. Oh, I'm sure there are plenty of tasks that necessitate people being stuck in places by themselves - but it's not so much your space as a space that you are occupying for a task, that anyone else can pretty much just waltz into, because of the aforementioned lack of ownership of the space. It's just where you are when you relabel the things or unload the boxes or whatever.
It's not just in our day-to-day lives. If you want to go anywhere, you pay more to earn more space. Not only more legroom but more space between yourself and the person beside you. More ways to achieve minor privacies, tiny mercies. Buying two coach tickets just so you can have both seats to yourself. Hiring a taxi to take you to the airport. Flying first class. Flying private. Hotel rooms on the top floors to avoid having to interact with your other guests. Private and personal transport to all your destinations.
You can always go outside, but - again, a new set of rules. Out in the world, literally anyone can bother you or interfere with you. You can't sit around as you see fit or just relax. You are out in the world, in the grip of the elements, and people will probably look upon you with suspicion if they find you just lurking out of the rain in the middle of a wood.
Solitude is a positive thing. The time taken to just be alone with your thoughts, to process, to be under no external person-pressures, to be in private and not have to adhere to any rules or regulations aside from those which you set yourself. It's important. Ask anyone who can't have any for an extended period of time. Ask your introvert friends, who like leaving your parties early, not because your party sucks but because they've run out of the ability to be around all the other guests.
And in the ways I list above, solitude has become something that can be charged for. Just like every other commodity, privacy and alone time - necessities for those of us wired a certain way - has become something that has a price tag, and our mental health suffers for it.
Not the most pressing problem on the world's plate, but certainly one that I notice more and more.