As a writer myself, I can attest to what John Irving is saying here.
I see people with headphones on trying to isolate themselves from the world going on around them, and honestly? That doesn’t work for me because there’s the visual component of other human beings around you.
It’s a trait owned by introverts as well; for introverts, being around people becomes taxing, and it drains us of energy. The scientific explanation for this revolves around dopamine, the neurotransmitter that helps to control the pleasure and reward centers of your brain.
Extroverts need more dopamine to feel it, and it keeps them going in those situations — energizes them, even. Introverts are overwhelmed by dopamine, and overstimulated by it, needing solitude to make it dissipate.
Here’s how John Irving (The World According To Garp, The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meaney) knew — at an early age — that he needed time alone.