Society & culture


Dating used to be complicated, stressful and time consuming. It was also risky, romantic, and passionate. You were frequently rejected, which made acceptance all the more delicious, and the ritual of slow revelation made the thrill of the chase almost as sweet as the catch. Not any more. These days potential dates from dating sites like or sit in your inbox alongside Spam. Risk, effort and commitment are almost non-existent. If you don't like the look of someone you just don't respond to them. You can save time by ticking formulaic boxes to describe yourself and if you haven't got time to do that you can download suggested adjectives to describe your unique personality and imagination. You can even join cosy common interest dating sites, like dating for - or if you're a cat lover- to ensure that you don't meet anyone that's different from yourself. Curiosity has disappeared along with spontaneity and charm. In short, dating has become a sanitised, convenience driven activity in which people shy away from risk and real life. The success of the online dating industry (online dating is now the largest form of paid content on the internet after pornography) surely says something about where society is heading in the future. So is there a future for physical flirting? At the moment no. Flirting has been replaced by the promise of cyberlove, which is both anonymous and solitary. This is bad for individuals and bad for society.

Ref: Spiked Online (UK) 23 March 2005, 'Shopping for Love', J.Appleton.

'Twenty years ago Syndrome'

According to Howard Goldman from the University of Maryland (US) School of Medicine, each generation thinks it is more stressed out than the last. Some people would add that each new generation is also worse behaved than the last, or that things generally (crime, air quality, transport, education, hospitals - you name it) are not as good as they used to be. Take health. In the US 13% of Americans now suffer from some kind of anxiety and 9.5% suffer from depression. One study, conducted between 1988 and 2001, showed that 5.5 million more Americans were being prescribed drugs for mental-health related issues while another study found a large rise in the number of American students seeking help for depression or suicidal tendencies. Part of the reason for this increase is simply that mental health disorders are more commonly reported. Equally, many disorders can now be treated with medicines rather than psychotherapy and patients can administer many of these medicines themselves. Impacts from this increase in anxiety are significant and include everything from absenteeism, unemployment and crime to longer hospital waiting times. This, together with other supposed examples of how things are getting worse, has been labelled 'Twenty Years ago Syndrome' (because things were always better twenty years ago - no matter what you ask about). But are things really worse? The risk of serious crime is actually less in most cities than it was twenty or thirty years ago. Equally, the air quality is better, not worse. People constantly complain about long working hours but in fact working hours are now shorter than they were a century ago. As for healthcare the cost of treatment may have risen (and in some cases the waiting times too) but generally we've have never had it so good.

Ref: Various including The Economist (UK) 5 March 2005 'Stressed out and traumatised'.

Where does all the money go?

The question of what a life is worth has been answered by the Prudential (a UK financial services company) and the answer is GB £1,537,450 - unless you live in London, in which case the figure is closer to GB £2,000,000. This is what an average person spends in their lifetime in the UK. The research conducted by YouGov assumed that spending starts at the age of 18 because before this age all spending is taken care of by parents (?). The breakdown of major expenditure is as follows; mortgage, food and clothing £522,722, taxation £ 286,311, leisure activities £236,312, utility bills £101,760 and pet care £12,200. If you're a smoker you can also add £63,414 excluding healthcare costs. The survey found that expenditure is highest between the ages of 35 and 44 years of age when childcare costs and mortgages are at their peak. This is also the age when salaries tend to peak. Other interesting facts include the fact that men spend more than women (especially on entertainment) and that, on average, people spend £409,575 between their retirement and their death (men live for 18 years after retirement versus 21 years for women). The research also highlights that most people are ill prepared financially for retirement (this research is sponsored by a financial services company remember!) and people underestimate the cost of living after they have retired.

Ref: The Weekly Telegraph (UK) Issue #719 'The final bill for an adult life is £1.5 million', B.Barrow.

Down and out

According to the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) 263,000 people decided to leave London and live elsewhere last year, while only 153,000 moved in. Overall, the UK saw a net population decline of 22,000 while all regions except London and the West Midlands experienced an increase in population. The fastest growing region was the South-West of England. Migration watch, an immigration think-tank, has also produced a survey saying that there is evidence to suggest that white middle-class families are leaving cities such as Manchester and Birmingham, thus creating a growing race divide. This trend mirrors the 'white flight' phenomenon in the US. Other figures published by ONS estimate that a record number of Britons (191,000) left the country last year to live abroad and around 25% of adults have 'downshifted' in the UK over the last twelve months (a figure, incidentally, that is exactly the same as Australian figures produced by Dr Clive Hamilton). According to Dr Hamilton downshifters have on average accepted a 40% drop in income to re-balance their lives and the downshifting phenomenon is evenly distributed across all social grades, age and income groups.

Ref: The Weekly Telegraph (UK) Issue #719 'Thousands more are downshifting', S.Womack. See also Grey Nomads' ¨ What's Next issue 5 (travel section).

Protection by infection

It has been estimated that, worldwide, 300 million individuals are asthmatic and this number will grow to 400 million by the year 2025. According to the World Health Organisation 40% of children in the US suffer from allergic rhinitis (hay fever and other allergies) while 15% of children in Europe suffer from eczema. One study in the UK also found that cases of peanut allergy had increased by 300% between1989 and 1996 while US study found that peanut allergies had doubled between 1997 and 2002. What on earth is going on here? Until recently, the most plausible explanation was what became known as the 'hygiene hypothesis'. This essentially said that removing serious childhood diseases through vaccination and the use of antibiotics had weakened children's immune systems. Other factors that were considered included dietary changes, increases in stress, obesity and even tobacco smoke. However, it now looks as though environmental factors may be a more likely culprit. For example, it is interesting that the trend is largely confined to Western countries. African American children living in the US suffer, but African children living in Africa do not. Moreover, the rise in allergies is more or less confined to cities and suburban areas. Children brought up on farms do not generally suffer the same reactions. The most likely defence against allergies therefore seems to be benign microbes that are encountered on a daily basis - micro-organisms found on or in soil, untreated water, animals and plants.

Ref: New Scientist (UK), 16 April 2005, 'Filthy friends', G.Hamilton. See also 'Protection by infection', What's Next issue 5 (Health section).