uit Bit Rot, Douglas Coupland

A defining sentiment of our new era is that never before has being an individual been so easily broadcast, yet never before has individuality felt so ever-increasingly far away. Before the twenty-first century we lived with the notion of oneself as a noble citizen of the world, a lone soul whose life was a story written across a span of seven decades. Instead we now live with the ever-gnawing sensation that one’s self is really just one more meat unit among seven billion other meat units.

This twenty-first century crisis of individuality expresses itself in many ways. In Japan there is the phenomenon of the hikikomori. Your child grows up, leaves home and then, after a few years, returns home and never leaves his or her bedroom again. Ever. The rare hikikomori will venture out in the middle of the night to visit a local mini-mart, but that’s it. In 2010 the Japanese government estimated there were 700.000 hikikomori in Japan, with the average age being thirty-one. Yes, you read that correctly: almost three-quarters of a million modern-day elective hermits back with Mom and Dad, and they are psychologically incapable of ever leaving.


I suspect these young people are experiencing atomophobia: the fear of feeling like an individual. After the late 1980s bubble burst, Japan went from being a monolithically homogenized culture, with guaranteed lifetime employment, to its exact opposite: a land of hyper-individuality trapped inside a consumer hyperspace that guarantees nothing, let alone employment. The crazy costumes once worn only on Sundays in Harajuku are now regular, uncommented upon Japanese daywear. One might think that a culture in which its everyday citizens dress in borderline Halloween costumes is a culture of fierce individuality; instead it is a society deeply conflicted about the dark side of enforced uniqueness. ‘The more like ourselves we become, the odder we become,’ wrote Australian critic Louise Adler. ‘This is most obvious in people whom society no longer keeps in line; the eccentricity of the very rich or of the castaways.’

In North America and England we have the trend of ‘normcore’ (the normal version of hardcore) – a trend so stupid that it’s more famous for being a stupid trend than it is for being a trend in itself. But normcore actually is something real, a unisex trend that very much exists. England’s Heat magazine tells us, ‘Normcore celebrates the ordinary with its reliance on brazenly bland staples such as stonewashed denim, label-less shirts, and pool sandals that bear a distressing resemblance to Crocs. It’s the ultimate knee-jerk reaction to not only the meticulously dour Hipster look, but the demands of fashion in general.’ Normcore is about dressing to be invisible, the fashion equivalent of renting a midsize American-made sedan in a large American city: total anonymity that offers abdication from the responsibility of having to be an individual living in real time in the real world. Normcore says, ‘Screw it. Go ahead: monitor me on CCTV’s. Scan the Internet with facial recognition algorithms. Have the NSA read my emails like tea leaves. I’m going to be deliberately ununique. I am going to punish the world with my blandness, and if you scan my metadata, you’ll fall asleep before you find anything good.’