Saturday, July 08, 2006

Increasing social isolation?

This research got a lot of coverage when it came out recently:

Americans' Circle Of Friends Is Shrinking, New Study Shows
Americans' circle of close confidants has shrunk dramatically in the past two decades and the number of people who say they have no one with whom to discuss important matters has more than doubled, according to a new study by sociologists at Duke University and the University of Arizona.

"The evidence shows that Americans have fewer confidants and those ties are also more family-based than they used to be," said Lynn Smith-Lovin, Robert L. Wilson Professor of Sociology at Duke University and one of the study's authors.

"This change indicates something that's not good for our society. Ties with a close network of people create a safety net. These ties also lead to civic engagement and local political action," she said.

Assuming there's a real effect here, rather than some artifact, one certainly has to wonder what's going on. I should probably exercise restraint in speculating about this. But I can't escape the feeling that U. S. society in general has definite signs of increasing illness and dysfunctionality over the past few decades. There's an increasing sense of anxiety in the air. People seem more opinionated, less open-minded, and less willing to consider ideas outside of narrow ideological positions. There's a sense of fearfulness and insecurity everywhere. You know, terrorists and sexual predators hiding under every bed.

Perhaps it has something to do with increasing challenges and threats to certainties and eternal verities -- such as religion, patriotism, "free enterprise", and moral superiority -- Americans have assumed (mistakenly) that they could always depend on.

If there's anything to such observations, then perhaps people are retreating from close, confidential friendships because it's getting harder to deal with points of view different, perhaps even slightly, from the viewpoint one is already imbued with.

Just a thought. FWIW.


Additional references:

Social Isolation Growing in U.S., Study Says - Washington Post


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