I Am Not Alone

As I sit here at 6 a. m. on a Sunday morning in my robe and into my first cup of coffee, I find it good that the image of the lonely geek with no social skills blogging away in his or her pajamas may not be accurate.

The New York TImes reports on a study that indicates that

    . . . people who regularly use digital technologies are more social than the average American and more likely to visit parks and cafes, or volunteer for local organizations, according to the study, which was based on telephone interviews with a national sample of 2,512 adults living in the continental United States.

    The study found some less-than-social behavior, however. People who use social networks like Facebook or Linkedin are 30 percent less likely to know their neighbors and 26 percent less likely to provide them companionship.

You can find the full study here.

Actually, I think the two factors that most promote isolation are economic and sociological. Back in the olden days, when I was young ‘un, a lot of persons lived their whole lives in the same place. They might have gone away for the service or for college, but, they tended either to come back home or, if they moved to another place, to stay in that place. If you bought a house, it was going to be your house for a long, long time; the concept of a “starter” home is a relatively new one.

Now people move at the drop of an interest rate.

Persons who move frequently don’t get much of a chance to know and develop friendships with their neighbors–develop Fourth of July barbecues, maybe, but not friendships. Even a move to a new neighborhood just down the road is a move to new neighbors.

That leaves work or community groups, such as church, PTA, and service clubs (Lions, Rotary, and the like) and fraternal organizations (Moose, Elk, Eagles) as the next source of friendships for most persons, but the moving will have the same effect on getting to know persons at community organizations as it does on getting to know persons in the neighborhood. And the service clubs and fraternal organizations are dying because persons are moving so much and are so busy with two or more jobs that they don’t have time to join.

That leaves work. But persons no longer stay at their companies for a lifetime (or, perhaps, more accurately, companies no longer keep persons around–I’m not even going to bother to look for a citation for that; we all know it’s true and the evidence is a google away).

So the occasions for developing strong social ties outside of famiy have decreased under the pressure of economic and sociological changes. And we know how transitory family has become (I’ve been married twice, for example).

I don’t know whether my usage of Facebook is typical. I have almost 300 “Facebook friends.” Of those, perhaps fewer than 25 are persons I consider friends (close or casual), and those are all persons I knew before I joined Facebook. Most of the rest are persons who share similar interests (I am a political junky and a Linux fanboy–graphing my Facebook friends would result in a dumbbell, with geeks on one end, lefties on the other, and friends and family in between). I find Facebook a convenient way to keep up with stuff, a source of amusement and giggles and sometimes news, but it is a water-cooler conversation that never ends; it’s not a social life.

Of course, it has brought me a girlfriend, but I knew her before, also. Forty years before, but still before.

(Also posted at my place.)

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