Americans increasingly have stopped going out, choosing to just stay home, preferably by themselves. This is true especially of Millennial young adults, who have turned solitude into a fashion trend.
The rise of millennial hermits is a bit puzzling at first blush. Sure, staying inside has its advantages. You’re sheltered from the elements. You can watch TV, which has gotten really good. Your pet is there, if you have a pet. And everyone needs downtime, some of us more than others
. . . .
Research suggests that all this homebody chatter is not just for show: Young people really are more prone to staying in these days. One 2018 paper
, published in the journal Joule
, found that Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 spend a whopping 70% more time at home than the general US population. In another 2018 survey
, conducted by the marketing research firm Mintel, 28% of millennials between 24 and 31 said that they preferred to drink at home because going out was too much effort, compared to just 15% of baby boomers who agreed with that statement. . . .
Technology has certainly played a role in popularizing the hermit trend. Writing for the New York Times in 2016
, Molly Young suggests that services like Tinder, Netflix, Seamless, and Postmates have enabled today’s young people to abandon themselves to the comforts of convenience. “It’s like pouring your money into a savings account,” she writes of the choice to stay in over going out. “You’ll grow marginally; you’ll stay safe; your expectations will be met and never exceeded.” Heading out to a party or an art opening, Young writes, is more of a gamble. Maybe you’ll have an amazing night you’ll always remember, but more likely you’ll just stand around awkwardly and blow $60 on cocktails. . . .
Young’s theory suggests that Netflix and its ilk are facilitating our desire to stay in, rather than compelling us to do so. They’ve thrived because they tap into the comfort-craving, risk-averse portions of our psyches. In the Times article “Am I Introverted, or Just Rude?,” the writer KJ Dell’Antonia also posits that the homebody renaissance may be linked to the popularity of Susan Cain’s 2012 book on introverts, Quiet, which helped spread the (quite valid!) idea that staying in can be a form of necessary self-care. “I wasn’t neglecting my friends, avoiding my fellow parents or letting my community engagements suffer,” Dell’Antonia says of giving herself permission to decline invitations. “I was preserving my energy, engaging in self-care, allowing my ‘tortoise shell’ to protect my vulnerable, precious self.”
The article goes on to point out that socializing of a sort is still taking place, even among the homebound, since a major solitary activity is getting absorbed in the ersatz interactions of social media.
Looking at the issue more broadly than the habits of the Millennials, this impulse to just stay home–sometimes called “cocooning,” though the butterflies decline to come out–seems to be reflected in other areas of contemporary life. The number of people going to the movies is down. Attendance at sporting events
is down. The food world is seeing the rise of “ghost restaurants
,” which have no dining rooms or public locations, delivering their meals to the stay-at-home market.
But it isn’t just that streaming television has gotten far better than the remakes and recycled comic books that you get at today’s movie theaters, and that watching sports on TV gets you a better view than expensive seats at the stadium, without having to worry about parking.
Americans seem to be pulling away from socializing altogether. When was the last time you went to a dinner party or invited non-family members to your home for a meal? Do you belong to a bowling league or a bridge club? Such activities used to be commonplace across every demographic. Now they have become rare.
Friendships are down. Knowing your neighbor is down. For many of us, our only sustained interaction with flesh-and-blood human beings is at work.
More consequentially, marriage rates are down. Dating rates are down. Even sex is down. Why go through the drama and humiliations of relationships? Why take up the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood? Internet pornography, by contrast, offers sexual release without ties, without having to worry about harassing or being harassed, without having to interact with some other person.
I wonder how much the decline in church attendance is due to this impulse towards solitude. Could it be that today’s secularism is not really due to a crisis of belief or disillusionment with the church, but to people’s desire today to just stay home on Sunday mornings and avoid people? In which case the various strategies churches are using to attract people–being friendly, having greeters, introducing visitors, plugging newcomers into small groups, integrating them into the community–are actually what is driving them away?
I have to say, though, that I can relate to all of this. My idea of a good time is staying home (though not by myself. With my wife. With other members of my family when they are around). Being involved in our church and its various activities is good for me, taking me not only out of the house but, more importantly, out of myself.
In Homer’s Odyssey
, the Cyclops are monsters not so much because they are man-eating one-eyed giants but because they are anarchists–living without government, without religion, without commerce, and without hospitality, withdrawing into their caves: “We came to the land of the Cyclopes, an overweening and lawless folk. . . . Neither assemblies for council have they, nor appointed laws, but they dwell on the peaks of lofty mountains in hollow caves, and each one is lawgiver to his children and his wives, and they reck nothing one of another.”
When we think of the dissolution of society, we often think of people rioting in the streets. But that requires joining together with other rioters, and other rioters constitute a society. As opposed to isolated individuals without ties to anyone, each preoccupied with his or her “precious self.”
Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay