On the 21st century psychosocial zeitgeist
(psychological climate of our time)

James Neill
Last updated: 13 May 2005

Why Psygeist?

There is a story that, if you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out straight away.

However, if you put the frog in a pot of cold water and heat it slowly, the frog will not notice the problem until it is too late.

Human culture seems to be  "cooking slowly" but surely towards boiling point. Long-term survival is at risk,  but there is a lack of collective awareness and action to change.

PsyGeist presents trends which are indicative of how we're coping with the heat.


  • Zeitgeist = the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era
  • Psygeist = the psychosocial climate of an era
  • Psychosocial = psychological and social



What's New?

  • PsygeistConsumption of resources outstripping planet's ability to cope
    (Jonathan Fowler, 2004, Associated Press)

    The World Wildlife Foundation has revealed that human beings are collectively outstripping the planet of its natural resources faster than they are being replenished.  "Ecological footprint" calculations reveal that an average North American's consumption is double that of an European, and seven times an Asian or African.  Also of concern is spiralling consumption in China and India.

  • Kiwis turn their backs on natureKiwis turn their backs on nature
    (Teresa O'Connor, New Zealand Herald, 6 March, 2005)
  • According to new research New Zealanders are turning their backs on the great outdoors in droves because they have become so urbanised they lack the confidence to tackle even the most basic activities like camping and tramping.

  • Psygeist1 in 10 bird species could vanish by 2100
    (Dan Vergano, 13 December, 2004, USA Today)
  • Another symptom of humans' unsustainable lifestyle is that bird species are struggling to adapt to the pace of change.  New estimates indicate that about 10% of all bird species are likely to be extinct by 2100.  The most direct causes are habitat loss, hunting and climate change.  What can be done?  Expand and connect up natural habitats and replace hunting with ecotourism are some practical suggestions.

  • PsygeistThe adaptational challenge for 21st century humans
    (James Neill, 2004, Outdoor Education Research & Evaluation Center)
  • It is very possible that there are amazing far distant futures for homo sapiens and what may evolve beyond.  It is also very possible that our speciesí future will be much shorter and less enviable than expected.  What happens during the 21st century will be critical.  What futures dare we imagine for our great-great grandchildren?  What kind of world will the projected 10 billion or so people inherit in 2100?  What futures are we creating through our actions?
  • Canberra Slow Festival
    (October 23 - 31, 2004)
  • 1986 the Slow Food Movement began in Italy as a protest against fast food, global standardisation and the fast-tracking of life generally. More recently, the principles of Slow Food - quality before quantity; pleasure over production; depth in preference to breadth; questioning speed for speed's sake; honouring and protecting local culture and traditions - have been applied to numerous other facets of life, including education, often by people with a sense of something missing in their own modern, hectic lives. Around the world more and more people are joining together to celebrate the benefits of life at a Slower pace.

  • Asia outstrips US in voracious natural resource consumption
    (Christian Science Monitor, 2 September, 2004)
  • The ecological footprint (a euphemism used to refer to voracious human consumption of natural resources) is even larger in Asia than in the US.  Although Asians only consume about 1/5th of the US consumption per capita, the vast Asian population means that Asia in total consumes 5 times more natural resources than the US.

  • Generation X: Lives on hold
    (Life and Society, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Archives, 2004)
  • Born between the early 1960's and late 1970's, Generation X was the first post-war generation to be worse off than its parents.  Social upheaval including an ever-changing job market, recession, rising cost of living, etc. made life tougher going for Generation X who are were also dealing with a future without clarity, impressioned by threat of global instability.  Sandwiched between suddenly broken-down traditional social values and a new undefined world age, most Generation X's have struggled to come to terms with their circumstances and establish their place in history.

  • Actually we eat less
    (The Daily Telegraph, 30 May, 2004)
  • According to current trends, by 2020 half of the children in the Western world will be obese.  Yet, we are eating on average 750 calories less per day than we were in the 1970's.  So, what's happening?  Its not so much that we're eating too much but rather that modern life has become too sedentary.  We are burning on average 800 fewer calories per day than 30 years ago.  With better quality food available today than ever before, what is lacking is self-discipline and cultural support to adopt active, healthy lifestyles.

  • Vacationers find it difficult to take psychological time off
    (Benedict Carey, May 17, 2004, Los Angeles Times)
  • People are working harder than ever and are struggling to relax while on holiday.  Holidayers often report disenchantment with their experiences, but are inclined to look back at past holidays through rose-colored glasses.  In all of this, people seem to be searching for time to be themselves but are coming up empty-handed.

  • Shun soft, selfish ways, Singapore education minister urges youths
    (Kevin Tan, 17 May, 2004,  Today Online)
  • According to the Singaporean education minister life today is too soft and selfish.  A get-tough attitude needs to be fostered in youth, particularly through outdoor and overseas experiences.  And parents need to teach children to care more about others.

  • What it was like to grow up 50 years ago?
    (author unknown)
  • New happiness index shows British society peaked in 1976
    (Mark Rice-Oxley, 31 March, 2004, Christian Science Monitor)
  • Reasons to be cheerless: The meaninglessness of modern life exposes us to such despair that we need more than a stiff upper lip to cope
    (Melanie Bunting, The Guardian, 1 March,  2004)
  • Playing around: Children's lives are tightly scheduled and free time for "just playing" is increasingly scarce.  Is that a problem?  You bet
    (Keith Johnson, December 2, 2003, mensdaily.com)
  • Fear of risk is as much a risk as risk itself
    (Tim Besley, 2002,The Age)

On-the-pulse links

What was life like a long time ago?