Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

A report in the newspaper today that a seventy-year-old woman (Dawn Sword) had died alone and lay at home for six months until her decomposed body was discovered. Reminds me of the opening lines of my book, Future Files, which was written back in 2006. Some things don’t change it seems.

Early in 2006 a middle-aged woman called Joyce Vincent was discovered in her flat in London. She was dead. Nothing remarkable about that, except for the fact that she had been dead for more than two years and her television was still on. How could this happen? Where was everyone? The answer, of course, was that everyone was somewhere else. London, like most major cities, no longer has neighbourhoods; it has collections of individuals leading increasingly isolated, selfish and narcissistic lives. Neighbours keep to themselves and people don’t ask questions or volunteer information. In an age where everyone is increasingly connected to everyone else through the Internet nobody really knows anyone anymore. We have lots of friends but few of them dig deep to understand our hopes and fears. The general feeling is that you’ll live longer if you keep yourself to yourself.

In Japan there is a social phenomenon called ‘Hikikomori’. The phrase roughly translates as ‘withdrawal’ and refers to boys who retreat into their bedrooms and rarely, if ever, come out. In one case a young man in his early twenties shut his bedroom door and played video games, watched television and slept for fourteen years. Food was supplied by his mother who lived downstairs, virtually alone.

The phenomenon is a particularly Japanese condition although nobody can quite understand who or what is to blame. According to experts there are somewhere between one hundred thousand and one million Hikikomori in Japan, caused by everything from absent (always-working) fathers to over protective mothers.

There are a number of simple explanations for problems like these and most are wrong. Some people blame individualism; others point the figure at urbanisation, technology, education or even government. The reality is it’s all of these but ultimately we have nobody to blame but ourselves. We, and only we, have let this happen. And if it’s like this now what will it be like in another fifty years? This might be a strange way to start what is essentially a business book but I think that it’s important to first understand the bigger picture.

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