The number of people who have someone to talk to about matters that are important to them has declined dramatically. [Between 1985 and 2004]... we have gone from a quarter of the American population being isolated ... to almost half of the population falling into that category.The paper later suggests, "Shifts in work, geographic, and recreational patterns may have combined to create a larger demarcation between a smaller core of very close confidant ties and a much larger array of less interconnected, more geographically dispersed, more unidimensional relationships." It then concludes:
Whatever the reason, it appears that Americans are connected far less tightly now than they were 19 years ago.See also today's Washington Post for similar news coverage.
While many sociologists are shocked that American's social connectedness may be even worse off than Robert Putnam suggested in the landmark Bowling Alone, others argue that the data are not at all clear and that dramatic increase of Internet socialization casts doubt on the dire conclusions of "Social Isolation in America." See "The Strength of Internet Ties" by Jeffrey Boase, John Horrigan, Barry Wellman, and Lee Rainie (on behalf of the Pew Internet & American Life Project), which specifically challenges McPherson et al for being too narrow in their definition of "close ties":
There is more to being “very close” to a person than being a confidant discussing important matters. Having frequent intimate contact — whether in person or online — and providing help to each other clearly play roles.Long ago I put my own two cents into this debate: I share Putnam's concern and furthermore find it striking that amidst so much decline in community, two venues where American socializing is actually increasing are self-help groups and the Internet. I call this the "Cross Talk Crisis"; Barry Wellman more optimistically calls it "Networked Individualism."
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