SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco--Call them the burrowers.
They look like us. They talk like us. They hold down jobs, and pay taxes, and raise their children. But the way to tell a burrower is this: They stay home. And they like it.
Increasing numbers of Americans in the '90s are discovering the joy of burrowing -- the darker, deeper, necessity-driven cousin to the mild cocooning of the mid-'80s.
Home entertainment is booming -- 75 percent of households have a VCR now, and among affluent educated homes that percentage goes up to 90, according to a survey by the advertising company Young & Rubicam.
Eighty-six percent of Americans are so mad to own their own home that they will even buy in far-off suburbs, where out-of-home entertainment options are limited -- practically ensuring burrowing as a lifestyle.
Technologies and services have sprung up to service the home market. According to the National Restaurant Association, the percentage of every American food dollar spent away from home has risen only 2 percent since 1987, while Waiters on Wheels, the delivery service that brings restaurant meals to the home, has been growing by 30 percent to 50 percent every year since its inception in the Bay Area in 1987.
Shoppers Express, a Bethesda, Md., company that markets home delivery systems to supermarkets across the country, has tripled in size the last two years.
"People are absolutely staying home more," says Kevin Sheehan, vice president of marketing operations. "When we started out, we thought our customers would be seniors and shut-ins. But our main market has turned out to be dual-income families with children, time-pressed and convenience-minded, who prefer not to go out and deal with the crowds."
"People really do want to stay home," says John McMahon, chairman of Murphy's Express, a video home delivery service. "The demand is very strong -- it's stable and if anything, increasing."
Theories accounting for the burrowing phenomenon abound.
According to Dr. Ross Goldstein -- also known as Dr. Baby Boom and author of the book "40-Something: Claiming the Power and the Passion of Your Midlife Years," burrowing is a "combination of a life stage amplified by sociological and social trends."
In translation: A large part of the population is aging, and so will naturally tend to eschew their energetic youthful pleasures in favor of more homebound delights.
And the boomers are staying home with their kids -- 77 percent of American household members aged 25-44 head a family with children at home, according to Young & Rubicam.
Then of course, there's the recession -- it's more expensive to go out, and entertainment dollars are harder to come by.
According to Stanford professor of education and psychology John Krumboltz, author of "The Career Beliefs Inventory," "This economic recession has created a severe psychological depression for many people who are caught up in it, causing a lot of people to retreat into their own home and avoid social contact, because they don't see opportunities available to them anymore."
According to Richard Tarnas, author of "The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View," there are historical precedents for such a turning inward.
"Periodically a culture, or an individual, has to go through a certain transitional period of burrowing," says Mr. Tarnas. "A burrow permits new life to emerge from a cloistered, protected environment.
"This is happening right now. After an extroverted cultural movement that has lasted for centuries -- the Renaissance, the age of exploration, the scientific revolution -- now we're becoming aware of the imbalance and moral problems of that relationship to the outer world. We're turning inward to search for some answers."
Many burrowers cite thes need to withdraw from the bustle outside to recharge -- as the world gets busier, the need for quiet seems to become more intense.
"Everyone needs some time to get away and refuel," says Dr. Carla Perez, San Francisco-based psychiatrist and author of "Getting Off the Merry-Go-Round."
"To shut out the pressures and frustration of the world can be healthy -- to be by yourself or with friends or family just to get your energy and perspective back -- everyone should do that."