Monday, October 11, 2010

Shorter Stories

Douglas Coupland got me thinking with A Radical Pessimist's Guide to the Next 10 Years. It's a slightly tongue-in-cheek list of things we'll all have to get used to in the future. Some of them more serious (and more likely) than others, to be sure. Though the one that got me thinking was item 28 on his list:
28) It will become harder to view your life as “a story”

The way we define our sense of self will continue to morph via new ways of socializing. The notion of your life needing to be a story will seem slightly corny and dated. Your life becomes however many friends you have online.

I don't like his idea, but I get it intuitively. The power of story or narrative is something I've touched on before. The collapse of story in our lives may well be a longer term cultural consequence of the recession. A VoxEU paper on the long term effects of recession on values notes that:

  • First, the effects of a severe recession experienced are large when the individual is between the ages of 18 and 24 – the so-called formative age – during which social psychologists think most of social beliefs are formed; the effects are not so strong when the recession is experienced later in life.
  • Second, these effects are permanent because attitudes of recession-stricken individuals remain significantly altered many years after the severe recession ends.
  • Third, we control for individuals’ endowments such as income, level of education, and ownership of a house that could also have an impact on beliefs. We thus measure the direct effect of a recession on beliefs; this effect could be even bigger if we added also the indirect effect through the personal endowments, which are also affected by a recession.
  • Fourth, our estimation represents a lower bound of the effect of a recession on beliefs because our identification strategy relies only on regional shocks implicitly ignoring the effects of nationwide recessions.
So it is the current generation of young people that will bear the psychological scars of Ireland's uniquely severe recession (unique in OECD terms). And if one those scars is the inclination to postpone the future (renting not buying, cohabiting not marrying, jobs rather than careers), then it is easy to see how a story of a predictable life course might, indeed, seem corny and dated.

Sad really. Though there's one remarkable compensating factor. We appear, as a people, to be getting through this recession remarkably intact - emotionally speaking, that is. The latest Eurobarometer survey on Mental Health in Europe suggests that the Irish are amongst the most emotionally positive - scoring well above the EU average for happiness, calm and energy:

So there's hope yet. That's if hope doesn't smack to much of 'story'.

1 comment:

  1. Personally, I thought "new ways of socializing" (i.e. Facebook) would have made life seem more like a story. The format of the newsfeed, as far as I can see, is the epitome of experiencing your friend's lives as a narrative.

    Twitter, Facebook, "What are you doing?" and blogging all allow people to share their lives as a continuous narrative, so I presumed that the psychology of imagining your life as a story would be on the increase.


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