Running just as fast as we can, holdin' on to one another's hand
February 22, 2008 6:31 AM   Subscribe

What jobs out there involve complete isolation?

I don't like being around people, and find that I don't miss human contact no matter how long I go without. I'm not any kind of a misanthrope, I just have severe social phobia, get a lot of panic attacks, and strongly prefer solitude. This is generally regarded as a character flaw that needs fixing, but there has to be work out there where it becomes a useful skill, right?

I'm hoping for practical answers rather than ChatFilter. I'm just as familiar with the South Pole, the International Space Station and that spooky old lighthouse as anyone else, but I don't know how one actually becomes a creepy old Antarctic lighthouse keeper. In space.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (26 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
What you do is get a job that entails lots of self time. Truck driving comes to mind. I'm the graveyard attendant in a data center and only rarely see people except at shift change. Then I go home and close the door. I like it. You want to go live rural then running a farm can be pretty self-reliant. I would think a tree farm would be best. Long time between plant and harvest.
posted by ptm at 6:38 AM on February 22, 2008

Maybe one of those guys who does the filming for Planet Earth? They go out into the jungle and sit there for months at a time to just get a couple minutes of footage.

Though I imagine it takes quite a bit of social interaction to actually GET to those places in the jungle, but once there, I imagine you'd be all set.

And on preview, truck-driving seems like something you might enjoy as well, though there is also the interactions at either end (pick-up/delivery)
posted by Grither at 6:42 AM on February 22, 2008

Most 3rd shift jobs are pretty lonely, but there's always going to be x amount of interaction, especially nowdays with instant-on communications and a fair amount of over-population. Perhaps its time to address your phobias instaed of fantasizing about a job that probably doesnt exist anymore. Lighthouses are computer controlled, btw.

You can also move towards a freelance career and shut yourself up in your home. Coding and editing lend themselves towards this.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:52 AM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Good question - if you're happy the way you are (or as happy as the average person is), I'm all for working with your strengths. Don't know what kind of a commitment you're looking for (i.e., short-term job vs career), but if you would consider grad school, the library sciences offer good opportunities for solo work. You'd want to go more in the direction of cataloguer (rather than reference librarian) or archivist. I did some graduate-level study in the field a few years ago and am left with the impression that it is a field in which social awkwardness and single mindedness are not necessarily bad things.
posted by dreamphone at 6:57 AM on February 22, 2008

Become a braille transcriber. You can learn braille via correspondence and computer, and would only need minimal contact with the organizations once you're set up. There's currently a high demand for higher math braille in high school textbooks, so that requires some additional training, but again once you're set up you can get paid to read and format books all day.
posted by Melismata at 7:04 AM on February 22, 2008

How about working in a country where the people do not speak your language? You can be around people, but are never in the situation where you have to do the whole social thing. Try teaching english in thailand or somewhere. I'm sure some lady there will also help you with your problems. You'll come back a better person. Alternatively, try Africa. They are so social there, you will never feel awkward.
posted by markovich at 7:10 AM on February 22, 2008

What about phone work? You aren't around people but you have to talk to them on the phone. Between "real" jobs I did a short term gig doing phone surveys for a marketing outfit similar to the Nielson ratings but not the Neilson ratings. Just about everyone working there either weighed 500 pounds or was damaged in some way, but that didn't mean they couldn't kick ass at what they did on the phone. There were other people around but we were all sectioned off in our own private cubbies and there wasn't much interaction unless you shared an elevator ride on the way. For the lighthouse keeper job, look for jobs under Property Management. Believe it or not, you will see those kind of jobs and caretakers for large estates that seldom see inhabitants.
posted by 45moore45 at 7:11 AM on February 22, 2008

Apply to be a fire station lookout observer in Alberta. More general info, including sweet photos of complete isolation views.
posted by Rumple at 7:23 AM on February 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Assisting graduate students with research surveys out in the wilderness can be a pretty solitary pursuit, but a lot of the solitary-ness depends on the student heading up the research. A number of wilderness ranger jobs generally include traveling miles and miles of national forest trails while doing head counts, clearing trails, and that sort of thing, often on your own.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:23 AM on February 22, 2008

I had a friend who was a third shift sysadmin and was almost always alone.
posted by TedW at 7:26 AM on February 22, 2008

Antartica jobs are right out, at least most of them, because you'll be in close proximity to the other people there at pretty much all times. I had a friend who was there, and if I recall correctly she had a roommate. Very few lighthouses are staffed nowdays. The perfect job for this type of thing used to be fire lookout but again that's done more with computers and remote non-human monitoring.

That said, I work at MetaFilter and while I do a lot of communicating, I don't have to see anyone for days if I don't want to, so you may want ot think about whether you don't want to interact with human or you just don't want to SEE them. For example, I like people pretty much but 45moore45's suggestion strikes fear into my heart because I Hate The Phone, on the other hand, I teach computer classes and I find that interacting with people in that way is okay for me.

So in answer to your question, anything that pays you won't have 100% isolation but you may be able to minimize human contact quite a bit.

- night watchman
- caretaker of some remote place [you can get a copy of Caretaker's Gazette and see a bunch of neat jobs, many of which are very remote and require not too much in the way of skills, many also don't pay but have decent free rent attached]
- writer -- once you manage to make this pay you can basically only interact with people during submission time
- some sort of person who operates by mail who repairs or restores things. I work in libraries so I automatically think of book repair but I'm sure there are other types of things like this.
posted by jessamyn at 7:27 AM on February 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Learn computer & specifically web-based design/coding. Create your own projects and make them profitable. With any luck, all the (little) communication you might have to do with the outside world can be done via computers.

Or become a writer.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:33 AM on February 22, 2008

I work from home in an online environment and would go weeks weeks without speaking verbally with another human being if it weren't for my girlfriend.
posted by nitsuj at 7:42 AM on February 22, 2008

2nding jessamyn: I don't know where you got the idea that you'll have more personal space in Antarctica, but let me disabuse you of that notion right now. Also, if you winter over (which I imagine is what you'd like - stay on the skeleton crew that lives at the station when it's too snowy to get in or out - so from about March to November) I hear you have to pass a fairly extensive battery of psychological tests, so this crippling social phobia might disqualify you.

I think being a programmer in a home office would suit you. From what I hear, they don't really have to talk to anyone most of the time.
posted by crinklebat at 8:12 AM on February 22, 2008

As mentioned above, fire-station spotter.

I applied several years ago (I'm in CA) for a position posted on craigslist, but never got a word back.

I think the pay averaged out to around 15-16 an hour as if you were working 8 hour days. You did get a food budget, I think, and obviously a place to stay. Depending on where you are, you might have to deal with visiting hikers tramping through -- six or seven years ago I visited one myself, and it was very cute. Definitely a great job to plan on getting if you wanted to write a book in your free time -- no distracting internet (although that might have changed by now)!

Better be sure you can pass a drug test before you try applying though -- they have very strict policies (at least in CA) about drug/alcohol use.
posted by fishfucker at 8:58 AM on February 22, 2008

Are you creative? An artist? Many artists live hermit-like existences which seems to fuel the introspection and perspective to create great pieces.
posted by monarch75 at 9:53 AM on February 22, 2008

I am a freelancer programmer, and while I often go days without seeing anyone but my husband and pets, I constantly have to talk to clients on the phone. Most people who are going to hire someone want to have contact besides email. I noticed a lot of people suggested working from home as a programmer, so I wanted to share my experience. Unless you work for a company who acts as a third party between you and the client, you will probably have to talk to them at least once in person and several times over the phone during the life of the project. I work for such a company and I still have to talk to my "boss" and other contractors during the day pretty regularly. I don't mind, but if you don't like using the phone either that wouldn't work for you. The company knows I don't want to talk to or meet the clients so in general they use a project manager to talk to the client who then relays it to me, and I am comfortable with that person.

However, after a few days in the same home/work space I get a little nuts and have to go shopping or biking or something to get air and see other people, if only so I can get frustrated at them and go back home :)
posted by jesirose at 10:44 AM on February 22, 2008

Does your phobia expand to phones? As a semi-former sufferer, I'm terrified of talking on the phone (for no good reason), but only slightly uncomfortable face-to-face. If this isn't the case with you, though, various phone jobs are otherwise isolated. Some 911 dispatchers sit in a room by themselves all day, but talk on the radio and phone all day. You'd know better than I would whether this a great job for you or a horrible idea.

There are lots of work-from-home jobs. (Be wary of random online ads, though, which often sound more like scams than jobs. Particularly the $5,000/week ones.) The Internet is making big inroads here, too. Computer jobs, for obvious reasons, are at the forefront of working from home. I have friends who work in the tech sector and periodically "call in sick" but work from home for the day. There are definitely some where you needn't ever go in. You may have conference calls via phone (or VoIP), though.

Data center techs came to mind for me, too. Most people I've talked to find it too extreme--you're all by yourself most of the time, and it's usually in the low 60s or high 50s. So they're freezing, bored, and lonely. If you're good with IT and like wearing sweaters / sweatshirts / parkas, it might be good for you. The job may involve telephone work in the case of vital systems failing, though.

There are niche researchers and stuff, too, who are pretty much hermits.

Or become an eBay entrepreneur! I wanted to pick up a rather pricey two-way radio a while back. (I'm a dork.) So I spent a few weeks watching eBay auctions, and sniped one at a low cost. After a few weeks, I realized it really wasn't that useful for me and sold it for about a $100 profit. So now I keep a big watchlist and do some "eBay arbitrage." I've learned the going prices for various niche products, and scoop up ones below value, clean them up, take good pictures of them, and resell them at profit. I do this as a side hobby, so I don't make much. But if you were good and devoted, you could probably make a living doing this. eBay's made many a millionaire.

I just have severe social phobia, get a lot of panic attacks, and strongly prefer solitude.

Get a job at McDonald's or something. Hear me out! I used to be a lot like you, but I "foolishly" took a job in customer service. At first I was miserable, realizing that customer service was a terrible place for someone with social anxiety. But soon, I realized that it was all just superficial interactions, and also "got hand" as George Castanza would say. And soon, my social anxiety was greatly diminished. Not gone, mind you, but greatly diminished. And if you get a job at McDonald's or something of that sort, it's basically risk-free: if it turns out not to be for you, you quit. It's not like you'd be putting McDonald's on your resume anyway.

posted by fogster at 11:08 AM on February 22, 2008

Forest ranger, although you may have to interact with people to fine them. Read Dharma Bums for more ideas.

Also, what Fogster said. Myself, I have phone phobia but it's been reduced to only non-business interactions.
posted by herbaliser at 11:55 AM on February 22, 2008

I had two uncles that manned isolated lighthouses (think someone dropping off supplies once a week), but you still have to radio ships of various nationalities as they pass by. In any case, almost all lighthouses are automated now.
posted by Paragon at 12:20 PM on February 22, 2008

not a job, but relevant: alone in the wilderness, the story of dick proenneke.
posted by proj08 at 9:15 AM on February 23, 2008

If I ever decide to be a hermit, I might work for a legal publisher (LEXIS, Westlaw, Matthew Bender, etc.). You summarize cases, write the key cite sections, sometimes write overviews of legal developments or chapters. Can be done anywhere with the internet. Do you have enough background in any field to do that sort of work?
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:16 AM on February 23, 2008

My friend has a similar problem and got a job cleaning restaurants and businesses at night. He usually works from midnight to 6 a.m. and never, ever has to talk to anyone. The worst part was the interview which consisted of dropping of a resume and answering questions about any criminal history. The guy gave him a set of keys, some addresses and what had to be completed by what time. He gets paid fairly well for the small amount of time he has to invest and I think he does something Web-based the rest of the time.
posted by thehmmhmm at 5:06 PM on February 23, 2008

Depending on where you choose, a night auditor at a hotel/motel might be a good fit. Don't choose anything too prosperous (no, really!) because you'll have to interact with people looking to get in at the last moment. But a lot of night auditors deal with one or two people--a night.

As far as library sciences, please for the love of god don't! We may be an awkward bunch, but the world is a (very) small one. Also, nearly all elements (yes, even cataloging) involve human interaction.

I do nth the idea of third shift work, for two reasons. One is, of course you don't run into too many people. The other reason is, you run into just enough people that you might wear the phobia down a bit, or at least not make it any worse. As far as places that are open twenty four hours that aren't food service, my suggestion would be casinos. Pay isn't bad there, either.
posted by librarylis at 5:41 AM on February 25, 2008

I second the transcription suggestion though not necessarily braille. I once did transcription of therapists' voice notes of patient sessions. Back then they mailed me the tapes and I mailed back completed transcripts on floppy disk. Nowadays I would think it's all electronic. I did the transcription from home. About the only time I spoke to anyone with that company was the occasional pay or benefit questions.

I had no special qualifications other than being able to type pretty fast. They even provided the transcription equipment.

(BTW this is a very similar answer to a very similar previous question. This sort of topic seems to pop up a lot here)
posted by aerotive at 9:27 PM on February 28, 2008

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