I recently discussed closing the gate with someone I know. I am among those who close the gate. It is contradictory to say that I close the gate or do not socialize. However, I have always been socially avoidant. That is another way of expressing my tendencies, which have always been towards introversion and shyness. Yet, I have functioned successfully in mental health. That has included working in various psychiatric settings where the work demanded that I make solid connections with other professionals. I also opened a private psychotherapy practice where I relied on colleagues.
I was also married for fifty years before my wife tragically died of pancreatic cancer. We raised two wonderful daughters, and I’m a grandfather. Yet, I keep the gate closed. Mostly, I no longer want people to get close to me, except my family. In this posting, the focus is on how society enables people to be isolated.
“Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” is a book written by Robert D. Putnam, a political scientist and professor at Harvard University. The book, published in 2000, explores the decline of social capital and civic engagement in the United States and is a metaphor for reducing social connections and community involvement.
Social capital refers to the network of relationships, trust, and cooperation within a community or group. It is a valuable resource for individuals and groups to achieve shared goals and improve their well-being. Social capital is built through volunteering, taking part in community events, and maintaining strong connections with friends, family, and colleagues. Substantial social capital can lead to more significant opportunities, resources, support, and improved mental and physical health.
For example, he discusses bowling leagues to illustrate how Americans used to take part in social activities and join various groups. Still, over time, they have become more isolated and disconnected. Someone recently told me he felt bored, so he went bowling, but he was alone.
The book explores various factors contributing to the decline of social capital, such as the rise of television and other forms of entertainment that have replaced face-to-face interactions, the increase in time spent working and commuting, and the changing structure of families and neighborhoods.
Today, in 2023, we can add to the list of things that have caused a decline in social capital. One of these is the internet and particularly social media. On the surface, it might appear as though social media promotes interaction. However, children and adults sit in front of their computers, alone and isolated, staring at the computer screen. It does not equal direct and face-to-face interaction among people.
There are consequences of the decline in social capital. Among these consequences are:
- Political disengagement.
- Decreased trust in institutions.
- Reduced civic participation and the promotion of disinformation and conspiracy theories.
Putnam also offers hope for the revival of the American community. He discusses potential solutions and strategies to rebuild social capital, such as promoting civic education, encouraging community-based initiatives, and fostering social networks through technology.
Civic engagement refers to the active participation of individuals in their communities and society. It involves taking part in activities and initiatives to improve one’s immediate environment and contribute to the greater good. Civic engagement can take many forms, such as volunteering, voting, attending public meetings, and supporting local businesses. It’s an essential part of maintaining a healthy and thriving society, and it helps to ensure that individuals have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. Individuals can positively affect their communities by engaging in civic activities and helping build a better future for themselves and their neighbors.
Social isolation is the opposite of social capital. When individuals need connections and relationships within their community or society, they may need access to the resources, opportunities, and support that social capital can provide. It leads to feelings of loneliness, disconnection, and even adverse health outcomes. Building social capital can help to combat social isolation and promote well-being.