Hikikomori – a digital recluse?

In the March 15, 2010 edition of Newsweek, Devin Stewart reports that “the estimated number of hikikomori” is burgeoning. Hikikomori, as it turns out, is the Japanese term for “shut-ins who have given up on social life.”

Stewart seems to suggest that this is related to the miserable economy, where Japan’s massive debt has contributed to just 14% of respondents reported feeling confident in Japan’s direction, according to an Ipsos/Reuters poll cited by Stewart. But, what if the economy is just a single contributor among many? And what if hikikomori are cropping up across the globe and not just in Japan?

As I read Stewart’s brief column, I couldn’t help but remember a March 2007 essay published in Harper’s where I first encountered Internet Addiction (“I was a Chinese Internet Addict.”) That essay discussed the phenomenon, likely to be added to the DSM-5, in which individuals become so obsessed with the internet that they lose touch with reality (I’m dramatizing, but only slightly). What of the people who give up on physically social lives, and opt for solely (or predominantly) digital ones?

This bears keeping in mind. As social media develops and becomes more pervasive – as comprehensive connection to a digital world becomes more facile, what do we stand to lose?

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