Back in 2013, I was reading a BBC article titled, “Hikikomori: Why are so many Japanese men refusing to leave their rooms?” I came to know that Hikikomori are the people who totally withdraw from society and seek an extreme level of social withdrawal. That is why they were described as “modern-day hermits” although there is nothing “hermity” (if that’s a word) about them. Reading about these “modern hermits” amused me as I was unable to understand why people in Japan in such large numbers would want to restrict themselves to their home. Now cut to 2020, when Coronavirus forced everyone to stay indoors, I was happily writing my thesis, cooking on my own, using Social Media, watching memes and films, and pursuing my hobbies that earlier I was unable to pursue. This routine was my entire world for the entire year. I got hooked to web series and watched lots of films as well. The inability to go outside didn’t even hurt. I didn’t miss going out at all. Yes, I will confess that I am an introvert and that is why the lockdown was a boon and didn’t bother me that much. It was at this time, I realized why these “Modern Hermits” didn’t want to leave the comfort of their home. Apart from the comfort of the home, there are several reasons due to which these Modern Hermits remain isolated- poor grades, broken heart, bullying, asocial behaviour etc.
While earlier Hikikomori was a phenomenon limited to just Japan, but now it has been observed all around the world especially in developed countries. It is estimated that they are more than a million in Japan itself and their average age is around 32 years. Their exact population is unknown because they remain recluse and hence difficult to trace. Even in your friends circle you would find someone who practices the life of a Modern Hermit- geeky, introvert, loner, loves playing video games, confines themself in the room for the whole day and barely comes out. Modern life comforts and facilities such as Home Delivery, Work From Home, and Media Entertainment makes it possible for a person to remain indoors for the entire life.
One may question how media can contribute towards pushing people into their homes. But it is a fact that media is known for amplifying the message (and effects as well). It is doing exactly this by becoming the reason to stay indoors as it keeps people hooked. During the lockdown, the concept of “Captive Audience” arose. When the people were unable to go out, media usage increased significantly as the audience was left with a reduced alternative to passing their time. People were spending 3 hours 45 minutes on television and 1 hour 39 minutes on digital media per day. Time spent on television increased by 7.5% and that on smartphone increased by 7.2% during the lockdown in comparison with the previous year. (eMarketer, 2020) A study was conducted by VIVO-CMR on 2,000 participants aged 15-45 years in 8 Indian cities. It concluded that smartphone use went up by 25% to 6.9 hours as people were dependent on them for study, entertainment and work. During the pandemic, Indians spent their time on a smartphone for Work from Home (75% increase), calling (63% increase), and OTT (59% growth), Social Media (55% rise in time spent), and Gaming (45% increase in time spent). With such an increase in usage during the lockdown, I highly doubt that their usage would have come back to the pre-COVID time as by now it would have become their habit.
Apart from this, George Gerbner’s concept of “Mean World” from Cultivation Theory says that people who are heavy viewers of violence-related media content tend to think of the world as a violent place. I fear that the younger generation might start thinking of the world as a mean place and would isolate themselves in their home. I know millennials would disagree with the statement that people will become recluse as they like going outdoors. But I am specifically talking about Gen Z or iGen who is born in the Digital Era. They have been using digital technologies since their childhood and are framing their world through the screen. For them, the virtual world is much better and real than the real-world itself. It’s not just me who has this concern. Even researchers and writers such as Larry D. Rosen, Adam Gazzaley, Clay Shirky, Sonia Livingstone, Douglas Rushkoff, and Jean M. Twenge share the same concern and write about restraint, mindfulness, and media detox frequently. It is a common sight to see kids fiddling with their gadgets and being glued to their screen at an age when we used to play hide and seek or cricket. In such a scenario, it’s highly possible that virtual reality will become their preferred reality. The rise in consumption of fiction and animation, the popularity of Virtual World (Second Life) and Gaming point towards this direction and should definitely ring a bell. Even in India the popularity of gamers like CarryMinati and Mythpat (look at their YouTube video views) prove this point.
In future, I feel that as more countries move into the developed nation category, and start having modern (not just basic) facilities, the population of Modern Hermits would increase. Several reasons may force people to stay indoors- stressful life in cities, mean world syndrome, increase in crime, pollution, pandemic (we are facing one right now). But the question is- Will most of the people become Modern Hermits? Maybe, I’m not sure. So I would recommend the use of caution while using media technologies and avoid excess use. Also, parents should keep a tab on their children’s media habits. There are many other suggestions as well. But for now…Stop reading this article….get out and get some fresh air‼
The author, Prof Nitesh Tripathi is an Assistant Professor at Adamas University.