Mainstream Weekly

Home > 2023 > Life in the 21st Century: Reflections from the ‘Developed’ World | Aishwarya (...)

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 24, June 10, 2023

Life in the 21st Century: Reflections from the ‘Developed’ World | Aishwarya Bhuta

Friday 9 June 2023


The United Kingdom had appointed a Minister for Loneliness even before the COVID-19 pandemic, while the Japanese have begun consulting ‘smile specialists’ because they have forgotten smiling behind the masks worn in the aftermath of the pandemic [1], [2]. The Swiss Ministry of Health came up with a ‘Time Bank’ scheme in 2022 under which youth can volunteer to look after elderly people, have the hours clocked in an account, and be assured of the same number of hours of care in their own old age [3]. One of the richest people on earth has been meeting his own children once a month and interviewing them to decide on his successor [4]. Bizarre as each of these may seem, these are not dystopian plot ideas for an upcoming sci-fi novel. These are some of the tragic realities of the world we are living in today, unsurprisingly from the so-called ‘developed’ countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not a catastrophe of the distant past yet, but we have either conveniently forgotten the lessons it taught us or worse, learnt nothing at all. Having undergone shared suffering, lost dear ones forever, spent the most depressing days in complete isolation under quarantine, been bedridden without having any loved one around due to the contagious nature of the infection, indoor confinement for months, disruptions in education, and loss of employment, to name but a few should have made us more compassionate, empathetic and kind. We should have become more sensitive and warm in our daily interactions; we should have rejected hierarchies and realised that every human life is valuable, and deserves dignity and respect. We should have begun checking on people whom we had forgotten long ago despite them having been kind to us in the past. On the contrary, we have become self-centered, biased, and egoistic; we are so busy gathering influencers and sanctions on social media platforms that we have forgotten what it means to spend quality time with people without being concerned about the posts and reels to be uploaded later.

In an age where we are sending and accepting Google calendar invites over a year in advance, and even for in-person informal catch-ups over coffee or lunch, we need to stop and ask ourselves – where are we headed? Why is it so difficult for us to prevent technology from pervading our lives to an extent that we are depending on Artificial Intelligence tools such as ChatGPT to write everything for us from assignments and examinations to speeches and personal letters? Why are people in the most advanced industrialised countries increasingly leading isolated lives with nobody to care and share? What is this tragedy that we are witnessing and experiencing, young and old alike? Why don’t children have open spaces to play; why are adolescents and youth battling mental health problems or dying by suicide at an age when they can take over the world? Why are middle-aged individuals experiencing burnout and depression; why are the elderly yearning for company at the time they need it the most? Why are we unable to recognise the crisis staring at us in the face, and why are we not trying to make the world a better place?

Our souls, deprived of love, remain famished and wounded. As members of the human race irrespective of the colour of our skins, nationalities, and intersectional identities, we need collective healing – we need to become kinder to ourselves and to each other. There is no substitute for constructive human interactions; there is no force more powerful than love, and humanity cannot flourish as a whole unless each one of us takes efforts to become more humane. We need to step out of our bubbles and look at the pale blue sky. We need to reconnect with nature and in the process rediscover the gift of life and the joys of being alive. We need to rise by lifting others instead of turning everything into a rat race where the most powerful and privileged are sure to win. We need to make the world more liveable – not only in terms of controlling pollution levels but also by adopting lifestyles that are more sustainable and less harmful to the environment and by extension, ourselves and our future generations.

We need to be creative and embrace our potential for growth. No matter where we are and what we are doing, we all are good at something – let us see the good in one another and help each other feel better and grow. It is not too hard – pass a smile to a stranger on the street, and let someone who needs it move ahead of you in a queue. Try being nice one day, and continue it over and over again until it becomes a habit and way of life. The results will surprise us and fill us with a sense of contentment no achievement, pay rise or award in the world can elicit. We could save a life without knowing it. We have nothing to lose but our pain, scars and trauma, and everything to gain under the infinite sky.

(Author: Aishwarya Bhuta is a postgraduate student at the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom)


[1] Yeginsu, C. (2018, January 17). U.K. appoints a Minister for Loneliness. The New York Times.
[2] Mukhopadhyay, S. (2023, May 18). People in Japan forget how to smile during COVID-19 pandemic, start learning the art again; check details. Livemint.
[3] WION Web Team. (2022, January 05). Watch | ’Time is money’: People in Switzerland can actually deposit their time in banks. WION.
[4] BS Web Team. (2023, April 25). World’s richest man Bernard Arnault auditions his kids to run luxury empire. Business Standard.

ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy|
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.