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Friends. How many of us have them?

"Social Isolation Growing in U.S., Study Says," Washington Post, Shankar Vedantam

[…] Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard and the author of "Bowling Alone," a book about increasing social isolation in the United States, said the new study supports what he has been saying for years to skeptical audiences in the academy.

"For most of the 20th century, Americans were becoming more connected with family and friends, and there was more giving of blood and money, and all of those trend lines turn sharply in the middle '60s and have gone in the other direction ever since," he said.

Americans go on 60 percent fewer picnics today and families eat dinner together 40 percent less often compared with 1965, he said. They are less likely to meet at clubs or go bowling in groups. Putnam has estimated that every 10-minute increase in commutes makes it 10 percent less likely that people will establish and maintain close social ties.

Television is a big part of the problem, he contends. Whereas 5 percent of U.S. households in 1950 owned television sets, 95 percent did a decade later. […]

[…] Putnam […] said Americans may be well advised to consciously build more relationships. But they also said social institutions and social-policy makers need to pay more attention.

"The current structure of workplace regulations assumes everyone works from 9 to 5, five days a week," Putnam said. "If we gave people much more flexibility in their work life, they would use that time to spend more time with their aging mom or best friend."

So how often do you actually see any of the people in your blogroll? I mean, physically? In real time?

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  1. I see your Flickr thread being filled with friends all the time. As sad as it makes me to say, I confess that I don’t really have any friends in even remotely close proximity to me. I have met 3 people offline that I met online and became friends with and have met a couple other people in person that I just didn’t click with offline.

    I just lack the skills to meet people and make friends with them offline these days. I think a big part of that for me is a growing distrust I have for people. Living in Indiana I think when I meet new people that “more than likely this person doesn’t really like gay people, is probably a conservative republican and only likes to eat at well known chain restaurants.” None of this qualities work for me. I hope that when we move to someplace more generally progressive and liberal I’ll be able to relax, open up and make friends in person without having to read the person’s blog first and figure out if I could potentially bond with them.

    Sometimes I forget that I don’t have/haven’t made friends in Indiana but with my big birthday rapidly approaching I’m accutely aware that I can’t even throw myself a big birthday party because there is no one to invite here that doesn’t work with Belinda or is related to her work in some way. That just seems pathetic.

  2. Like Michelle, I lack the skills to make friends face to face. I’ve made a few valued acquaintances here in Vancouver, but more often than not I find that marital and professional responsibilities make sustaining friendships a bit difficult.

    There’s also the challenge presented by my introversion. I’m not good at making small talk. Oh sure, put me on a stage and I can perform/give a presentation/host a lecture, but “How’s the weather”, and “What’d you do this weekend” conversations leave me unfulfilled.

    I can make all of the excuses I want, but I think what is happening in many cases is that as society becomes broader and people spend more time in challenging *professional* spaces, they want and need to have time on their own, and more often than not, time spent in social spaces is usually the first casualty.

  3. About half of my ‘blog friends’ are friends in real life, and the other half are people I’ve either met via the internet, or that is the preferred means of communication, because they live so far away now.

    I would not consider myself to be an excessively social person, but I do maintain a close-knit group of friends and am very close to my family. Most in my social circle have been my friends from at least one year all the way to ten years. Within that circle, connections are pretty tight. I don’t go out of my way to make new friends, but I don’t discard the opportunity when it presents itself.

    Hmm, due to my tendency to ramble, I’m not even sure if I answered your question at this point..

    I agree about the television part, wholeheartedly. One of my favorite quotes is “you don’t have a t.v.?? what is all your furniture pointed at??”

  4. I’ve been harping on this problem for years. I read Putnam’s book early in college, when I was first becoming politically aware, and I think it has colored the lens I view politics through ever since. At very least, it ties with campaign finance for first on my list of hypotheses about What Is The Matter With Everything?

    So, I’ve tried to act in ways to counter both personally in terms of just trying to participate in the sorts of things that Putnam laments the decline of, and in trying to build tools and infrastructure that allow people to form social/interest groups easily, mostly using the web.

    I’ve had some success with the tool-building part of the equation, but, in my personal forays into trying to find community, I’ve been rather disappointed. Almost everything political I’ve tried to join has been frustrating and mostly pointless(activist groups who seem to be more about collectively feeling better about ourselves or massaging the egos of a few prominent members who dominate the proceeedings, etc, than actually accomplishing anything), and almost every interest group just ends up defaulting to some sort of vanilla lowest-common-denominator for that interest(every reading or writing group I’ve ever tried to be a part of), thus ceasing to be interesting to me. And being an introvert, it’s a big investment of energy for me to even try these things, so I just tend to drift away when I feel that I’m giving way more than I’m receiving from an experience.

    In a larger sense, I’m worried that I/we just no longer know how to do this kind of thing. Very few of us grew up in an environment defined by civic and group social activity, and now we’re just not really wired for it, nor do we have practical experience in terms of facilitating it. But, we still need community both to be fulfilled individuals and to have any hope of salvaging our democracy, so we need to figure out new ways to do it, which is one of several Big Things that I’m trying to do my small part on working toward.

  5. I completely get this. I find myself feeling/being pretty friendless lately. Just a few months ago I was in a comfortable social groove. I had enough local friends to rotate activities and outings, with none of us tiring of each other. Then they started moving away, one by one, and now I find myself in somewhat of a social shock. Mind you, I’ve never been a social butterfly. At some points in my life I have spent more time alone that was healthy. But I haven’t had that sinking alone feeling in a long time and I don’t welcome its return. The problem is I’m somewhat shy and no at all good at making new friends and tended to stick with in “my group.” Of the two people left that I actually hang out with, I’m kind of tired of seeing them and I think they feel the same.

  6. Glad someone has brought up this issue and done research to confirm it. I just felt that the inability to create and grow a friendship was a problem only for people who lived in Los Angeles. I’m pretty friendless here, too. I think the dense traffic and heat saps people’s will to do anything social. People here flake out and cancel more often than they did in San Francisco…
    AC

  7. I ebb and flow with this. In many ways I think that I am closer to people than ever. I have met so many people I would never had known through the internet (you George for example) but the problem is that since people read your blog, they feel like they know what is going on with you and therefore do not feel like they need to interact with you personally. I do not see people as much as I guess I would like to.

    I have a lot of friends and make them easily. I have no complaints in that area. However, I do not feel as intimate with my friends as I could be. I am not sure what that is about. I think part of that has to do with going out in groups. I feel like we do ont have dinner at each other’s houses like we used to. We always have to hang out in this really social setting that does not allow for private conversations.

    I do feel if I had a more flexible work schedule I would see people more, especially family.

  8. I telecommuted for a couple of years and was in the wrong time zone all the time. That got in the way of making local friends, especially when you always had phone calls at the local lunch time.

    For almost a year I’ve been hosting a weekly lunch at an Asian bakery here in Ann Arbor. It’s always at the same time, there’s a Yahoo group that reminds the people I collect about it, and I introduce new people to the list. From an initial start of 4 I’m up to about 50 invites and 6-8 people regularly show. I was motivated by the _pho_ list and lunch that started in LA; here the lunch staple food is bi bim bop.

    It’s nice to have a lunch on my calendar every week, knowing full well that I don’t have to plan it or even really host it very much now that it’s running by itself. I’ve met a ton of people, reconnected with friends and met friends of friends and entirely new people. Weekly is pretty intense, but definitely sticking something regular on the calendar and holding to it makes a big difference.