Magazine article Real Estate Issues

Bowling Alone

Magazine article Real Estate Issues

Bowling Alone

Article excerpt

Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard and president of the American Political Science Association, chose the rather flip title, Bowling Alone, for his treatise on the decline of "social capital" in America. He defines social capital as connections among individuals, or social networking, and the norm of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. We CREs are well aware of the trust and reciprocity which arises from networking among professionals of the highest standing; and it is unlikely those of us who are active CREs would agree with Putnam that there has been a serious decline in social capital.

In the first section of his book, Putnam painstakingly defines the decline in political, civic, and religious participation, as well as loss of social capital in the workplace and in philanthropy. His research ranges from the decline in bowling leagues to decreases in voter participation,na church attendance, bridge clubs, book reading groups, and the like.

In the second section of the book, Putnam claims to analyze the reasons for the decline in sociability. He concludes that the decline may be apportioned as follows: pressure of time and money, including two-career families (10 percent); suburbanization, commuting, and sprawl (10 percent); television (25 percent); and the replacement of the civic generation venerated by Tom Brokaw by their less involved children and grandchildren-the "baby boomers" and the "gen-X" (50 percent). Miscellaneous other factors cited might include higher divorce rates, growth of the welfare state, globalization, and the social turmoil of the 1960s.

Television viewing is thus cited as a major factor in the decline in social capital. Putnam quotes T.S. Eliot: "Television is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome." Putnam cites statistics depicting negative correlations between television watching and volunteering, letter writing to friends and relatives, club meeting attendance, churchgoing, and basic civility towards others. He states that chronic television watchers have higher than usual incidents of headaches, indigestion, and sleeplessness. After reading this book, one ponders why Lydia Pinckham's potion is not advertised on television. Putnam states that Americans are watching more television, watching it more habitually, more often alone and watching more programs that can be associated specifically with civic disengagement. Television is thus a major factor in increased civil disengagement.

The major factor, however, is age related. There is a long civic generation, born between 1910 and 1940, who are substantially more engaged in community affairs and more trusting than those who are younger. Since national polling began, this cohort has been exceptionally civic, voting more, joining more, reading more, trusting more, and giving more. It is noteworthy that most of them did not see their first television until they were in their late twenties. The younger age cohort, according to Putnam, reads fewer newspapers, signs fewer petitions, votes less, volunteers less, attends church less, and is demonstrably less civic-minded.

As a solution to the problem he as diagnosed, Putnam suggests a broad scale agenda for social engineering. He recommends improved civics education, more public service, more extracurricular activities, more settlement houses, more day care at the work place, a clamp down on urban sprawl, a religious "great awakening," a mandated reduction in television viewing, more dance groups and community sing-alongs, broader volunteer participation in the political process, and the like. …

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