Society & culture

Are friends the new family?

According to sociologists, institutions like the family, work, religion, class unions, trade unions and marriage are all losing their 'stickiness'. We no longer trust in God but in ourselves, so the theory goes. Thanks to the Internet - and especially technologies like mobile phones - we have also become more adept at finding like-minded individuals. Prior to the mid-1980s networks were largely local. Groups of friends were communities of fate. Now we live in cyber villages where we can choose exactly who we want to meet and screen out those we don't. In theory, this should have made us happier. In practice it hasn't. First we have swapped quality for quantity. Thanks to web sites like MySpace, Friendster, Facebook and Linked-in we have also mistaken acquaintance for friendship and replaced local communities with global networks. Moreover, in swapping family for friends we have placed an impossible burden on the latter. Expect this trend for looser friendships and cyber relationships to spawn a smaller counter-trend for physical intimacy and longer-lasting relationships.
Ref: The Guardian Weekly (UK), 23 December 2005, 'Loosening ties', S. Jeffries. See also 'The philosophy of friendship' by Mark Vernon and 'Rethinking friendship: hidden solidarities today' by Ray Pahl
Links: networks, family, friendship

Behavioural shifts in Japan

When it comes to the adoption of new technology, (eg, robotics and digital money), Japan is usually ahead of other countries.
It's also leading the trend demographically. The rapid ageing of Japanese society is a sign of things to come for countries like the US, Germany and Britain. Japanese firms are now fighting to keep hold of retirees as labour shortages start to really bite. Another new trend in Japan - which is also emerging in the US - is the huge boom in emergency kits and so-called FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) products. These are products such as mobile phones and radios that can be manually charged (i.e. wound up) and emergency survival products such as cookers and water filters. For example, one of the big sellers in Tokyo currently is a series of maps to help you find your way home after an earthquake.
Ref: Nikkei Weekly (Japan) 28 November 2005, 'Firms scrambling to keep retirees', 5 September 2005, ' Nervous public stocking up on emergency supply kits'.
Links: Japan, trends

Born to be disappointed?

A study by the Social Issues Research Center (SIRC), a UK-based think tank, says that Generation Y (people aged 12-24 years old) want it all and think they'll get it. The buzzwords of this generation are eclecticism and diversity, and instant gratification is the aim of the game. This is a 'sampling' generation that expect to do whatever they want, whenever they want. This means buying single music tracks rather than whole music albums or swapping jobs at the drop of a hat. As one member of the study put it 'nothing is out of our reach, we can get anything shipped from anywhere in the world in a couple of days'. Another common desire for Gen Y is money along with the wish to accumulate as much of it as fast as possible. This means that Gen Y is optimistic and happy with debt (perhaps because none of them have ever witnessed a major recession or possibly because they have seen their parents turn giant mortgages into mountains of money). Paradoxically (perhaps) Gen Y are also politically conservative, risk averse and anxious.
This anxiety is in turn fuelling nostalgia but is also driving close friendships. Meanwhile various Australian studies point to a less secure future. Gen Y is apparently a generation that expects to be financially successful and secure but has no Plan-B. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression will be the most significant condition in the year 2020. Do they know something we don't?
Ref: Various including: The Australian (Aus) 31 December 2005, 'The I-Want-It-Now Years', D. Hope. The Sydney Morning Herald (Aus) 17-18 December 2005, 'The modern dream ... life is meant to be easy'.
Links: Gen Y

Female chauvinist pigs

Apparently 4% more women understand the football (soccer) offside rule than men. This could be because women love 'the beautiful game', but it's more likely that women have studied the rule to curry favour with men. At least that's what some women think.There has been a lot of fuss in newspapers about the rise of 'ladette' culture - women that drink as much as men and behave just as appallingly too. But so what? Why should men have all the fun? However, perhaps there's something else going on here. Oxford University (UK) now has a pole-dancing club, while in Sydney pole dancing classes for women are proving a big hit. Some commentators suggest that this is simply women 'empowering' themselves, but according to Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs: The Rise of Raunch Culture', it's because some women see buying into male culture as a way of signalling that they pose no threat to men. How's that for an incendiary idea!
Ref: New Statesman (UK) 24 October 2005, ' Girls as chauvinist pigs', K. Cochrane.
Links: women

A singularly good idea

If you want to scare yourself (or someone else) silly about the future get hold of a copy of a book called 'The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology' by Ray Kurzwell. We've mentioned this book before but it really is a rollicking good read.            He posits that we are reaching the point where machines will become more intelligent that we are. At that point two things could happen. First, machines will become self-designing, self-organising and self-replicating. Second, we may choose to download the contents of our brain (possibly including our consciousness) into a variety of machines or virtual worlds. At this point our bodies will be redundant and having one will become a nostalgic or perhaps even a style-based decision. There are problems with the book. Kurzwell is a technological determinist, which means he's myopic about the power of technology and the influence of other factors such as the social and political environment. If the question is 'will technology shape the future?', then perhaps the answer depends on whether you think technology shaped the past.
Ref: The Australian (Aus) 17-18 December 2005, ' Singularly fanciful', A. Vaccari.
Links: singularity, Kurzwell

Dangerous ideas

What are the most dangerous ideas in the world right now? No idea? Then look at the Edge Foundation's World Question Center Simultaneously frightening and inspiring.
Ref: Futurewire/Blogspot (US) 6 January 2006.