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Customer Review

133 of 143 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You Don't Have to Be an Expert to Appreciate This Book, June 30, 2000
This review is from: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Hardcover)
I'm writing this review for non-sociologists and non-policy experts, for people like me who don't generally curl up with a book of sociology. "Bowling Alone" is an important work because it highlights some very disturbing trends at work in America and suggests some solutions.
Author Robert Putnam measures "social capital," which is simply the value of people dealing with people--organization and communication, whether it's formal (church council, the PTA), or informal (the neighborhood tavern, the weekly card game). We have suffered a huge drop in such "social capital" over the past 30-35 years; club attendance has fallen by more than half, church attendance is off, home entertaining is off, even card games are off by half. (Yes, there are people who survey for that!)
Why is this important? Because a society that is rich in social capital is healthier, both for the group and for the individual. The states that have the highest club membership and voter turnouts also have the most income equality and the best schools (and those that have the lowest, have the worst). And according to Putnam, "if you decide to join [a group], you can cut your risk of dying over the next year in half." Younger people are demonstrably less social than their grandparents in the World War II generation. They also feel more malaise. Lack of sociability makes people feel worse.
While "Bowling Alone" is a work of academic sociology, with charts and graphs, Putnam makes it as reader-friendly as possible with a good honest prose style and a straightforward presentation. His message deserves to be heard. He also suggests some ways for us to get out of our current blight of social disconnectedness, including a call for the USA to re-live the organizational renaissance we once experienced at the turn of the last century, the Progressive Era, which spawned so many organizations like the Sierra Club, PTA and Girl Scouts that are still with us and going strong.
If you read only one book of sociology this decade, make it "Bowling Alone." The research is astounding, the presentation is great, and the message is one we need to hear.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 9, 2007 6:30:53 PM PDT
Reginleif II says:
You, like Putnam and others who approve of his book, take for granted that because younger adults aren't joining the PTA and the Elks, they somehow lack connection. He doesn't take the connections fostered by the Internet -- which often lead to "meatspace" connections -- into account. Then again, I've noted that academics and journalists often feel horrendously threatened by the internet, which usurps their roles as gatekeepers of information.

In reply to an earlier post on May 4, 2008 8:37:37 PM PDT
I think the defensive tone of Reginlief II's post has to do with the fact that s/he conflates several different issues. (1) Do cybernetic connections like on-line gaming lead to community? Believe the jury's still out on that one. (2) Do more purposeful connections like Internet political activism lead to community? Probably, but we are just now inventing ways to measure for that; recall that the author's reserach was completed even before Howard Dean ran for President in 2004, the first time a big political insurgency took place through a website. (3) Do "academics and journalists" worth their salt feel threatened by the welter of information available online? As a rule, the good ones feel challenged more than threatened IMHO. Consider Laura Hillenbrand, who said right out in the introduction of her bestselling SEABISCUIT that the book would not have been possible without the Internet. Nonetheless, concerned critics do note that a lot of guile and ignorance gets passed around masquerading as true fact. And college teachers have bemoaned to me the fact that they can't assign research papers to their students in good faith -- the ability of the student to plagiarize if not outright BUY a research paper is too great, and the professor's ability to verify originality (in essence, search for the elusive "negative case") is too small. Not that it obviates the obvious blessings of the Internet.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 10, 2008 12:51:14 AM PDT
Paul Kang says:
Ridiculous, reginleif, absolutely ridiculous. Social connections fostered by the internet? Go look at the World of Warcraft community and tell me that's what you would substitute for a world where people meet and socialize over common interests. Look at myspace and facebook and tell me with a straight face that that's a proper replacement for weekly cardgames.

As a young adult that's a part of the internet generation, I can easily say that chat will never replace a phone call, that my time spent on World of Warcraft was wasted (I was the leader of a 30-man guild, people loved me and we were great friends online, hung out online all the time, then I quit, and poof, hardly talk to anyone anymore), and that the social network of my generation is based around bars and clubs.

I haven't read the book in question, and I haven't done any official research on the topic, but just from looking around me at a television-based society that doesn't know how to date, doesn't know how to talk, and doesn't know how to behave, I can say that America's society could use some changing. And that change won't come over t3h 1nt3rn37z0rz.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 27, 2014 12:33:21 AM PST
A. Varona says:
Just using your eyes and some common sense and intuition, it's more than obvious we're disconnected, and it's not fun. In fact, it's lonely and unfriendly. On the other hand, I see people becoming more involved and I think Occupy facilitated that. Lots of people organized and bonded and realized that together we can make a difference, as cliché as that sounds. And that's what life should be about, making a difference, not just catering to our own individual needs. Our needs will never be met if we're only in it for ourselves.

I look forward to reading this.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 27, 2014 3:34:18 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 27, 2014 6:14:17 PM PST
Note that I reviewed this book going on 15 years ago. I think it should be read, just as I think C. Wright Mills' THE POWER ELITE from the late Fifties should be read, because they both point to some societal themes that bear watching closely.

It is, however, quite obvious that in the intervening 15 years any study of "social connectedness" has got to include some kind of study of Internet-abetted activities. Are people becoming more anti-social given the ease of sitting at home and indulging most of one's "social" activities without leaving the home? Not the easiest question to answer. They might be scheduling Occupy events, which take a lot of planning indeed.
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