The Serbian Hermit Who Prefers to Be Alone

The research is pretty strong: People have better ideas when they interact with others. When people get together they often have collectively-owned ideas that no one person would have alone. This research is widely accepted by both psychologists, sociologists, and organization scholars. But there’s been a backlash, perhaps starting with Susan Cain’s 2013 book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. And now, after two years of isolation forced by the Covid pandemic, it seems that many of us have realized that we like spending more time alone. We don’t miss our annoying colleagues or those friends of friends that used to always join gatherings unexpected. This is a propitious time for a story about the Serbian hermit Panta Petrovic. He’s 70 years old and he lives in a cave. He moved there 20 years ago when he became “irritated by other people’s existence and indignant over the wretchedness of capitalism,” according to the New York Times. Was he bitter and miserable? Was he lonely? No, just the opposite! He was “more than happy: perfectly content.”

Is life better when we spend more time with other people? You might not be “solitary and antisocial” like Petrovic, but maybe you don’t really mind having extra time alone? What’s lost when you lose social interaction?

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