Tim Lott: What caused Britain’s national nervous breakdown?

Between 2000 and the 2008 financial crash, tech’s brave new world unleashed changes that were meant to make us happier

When did our country lose grip of its senses? Some will argue that we never had any in the first place, but others find a sharp contrast between the edgy, neurotic, angry, irrational country we find ourselves living in now and a Britain that was, not that long ago, vaguely commonsensical and, at base level, fundamentally civilised.

Researching my new novel, which focuses on the period between millennium eve and the financial crash of 2008, I was left in very little doubt about when it all started. Although I touch on trends in economics, immigration, property (my protagonist is an estate agent) and much besides, many of the forces I discovered were technological – but found their expression psychologically. In short, I believe this is when Britain embarked on its journey towards a full-blown nervous breakdown.

Like all epochal developments, the significance of these changes was not at the time fully understood, even though – and perhaps because – this revolution was happening on a number of interlinked but separate fronts. Most significantly there was the sudden growth of the internet, the unleashing of social media, and the accompanying change in our consciousness, which had at least as many negative effects as it had positive ones – because in technology at least, the remarkable changes that took place during that period were largely seen as superficial and positive, simply an opportunity to extend the amount of fun and convenience in society.

 

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