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The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter Hardcover – August 26, 2014
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“The benefits of the digital age have been oversold. Or to put it another way: there is plenty of life left in face-to-face, human interaction. That is the message emerging from this entertaining book by Susan Pinker, a Canadian psychologist. Citing a wealth of research and reinforced with her own arguments, Pinker suggests we should make an effort—at work and in our private lives—to promote greater levels of personal intimacy.”—Financial Times
“Drawing on scores of psychological and sociological studies, [Pinker] suggests that living as our ancestors did, steeped in face-to-face contact and physical proximity, is the key to health, while loneliness is ‘less an exalted existential state than a public health risk.’ That her point is fairly obvious doesn’t diminish its importance; smart readers will take the book out to a park to enjoy in the company of others.”—The Boston Globe
“A hopeful, warm guide to living more intimately in an disconnected era . . . Pinker explores the powerful effects of face-to-face contact in our increasingly computer-mediated world. While the benefits of human contact may seem like common sense, Pinker’s witty and informative book reveals a far more complex picture of these interactions. It may not surprise readers that having a web of friends and acquaintances makes both job-hunting and surviving the death of a spouse more palatable. But the biological effects that come from the community, and daily interactions with friends, partners, and parents are much less familiar.”—Publishers Weekly
“A terrific book . . . Susan Pinker makes a hardheaded case for a softhearted virtue. Read this book. Then talk about it—in person!—with a friend.”—Daniel H. Pink, New York Times bestselling author of Drive and To Sell Is Human
“What do Sardinian men, Trader Joe’s employees, and nuns have in common? Real social networks—though not the kind you’ll find on Facebook or Twitter. Susan Pinker’s delightful book shows why face-to-face interaction at home, school, and work makes us healthier, smarter, and more successful.”—Charles Duhigg, New York Times bestselling author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
“Provocative and engaging . . . Pinker is a great storyteller and a thoughtful scholar. This is an important book, one that will shape how we think about the increasingly virtual world we all live in.”—Paul Bloom, author of Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil
“A fascinating, nuanced study of that most fundamental need: the need for human connection.”—Maria Konnikova, New York Times bestselling author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
“The Village Effect is a fascinating explanation of why we need regular contact with people, not just screens—and why time spent with your neighbors will enrich and extend your life in ways you never imagined.”—John Tierney, New York Times bestselling co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
“With a raft of surprising data, this compulsively readable, lively and meticulously researched book shows that direct and frequent human contact is at least as important to our survival as clean air or good nutrition.”—Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Freedom Feminism: Its Surprising History and Why It Matters Today
“For those who look forward to life with cool robots, think again. Pinker shows us that crucial personal interactions are essential to true human feelings. The Village Effect is brilliant and compelling.”—Michael Gazzaniga, professor of psychology, director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara
“Intimate, face-to-face contact with partners, family, and friends is an ancient and deep human need. How do group-living primates like us make the transition to an online world in the evolutionary blink of an eye? Can they? Pinker shows how this is happening. And—even more important—she shows us how this should happen with a valuable prescription based on the best science. Pinker writes with authority and verve, and she offers an integrated treatment of online and offline interactions. She sketches our modern digital interactions on the ancient parchment of our minds.”—Nicholas Christakis, author and psychologist, Human Nature Lab, Yale University
“Susan Pinker’s The Village Effect is a bold, intelligent foray into what social isolation does to each of us in an age of technology. She offers keen insights into how social engagement enhances romance, parenting, career, family and friendship. Most impressively, Susan Pinker explores how gender and invisible social forces play into our daily lives.”—Susan Shapiro Barash, author of The Nine Phases of Marriage and Toxic Friends
About the Author
Susan Pinker is a developmental psychologist, columnist, and broadcaster who writes about social science. Her first book, The Sexual Paradox, was published in seventeen countries and was awarded the William James Book Award by the American Psychological Association. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Times of London, The Economist, The Atlantic, Financial Times, and Der Spiegel and on the BBC, the CBC, and NBC’s Today show. She lives in Montreal.
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I love this book despite or even because of its lack of progression toward a set of directions that lead one to action.
This book brings about reflection as one turns pages. The evidence for us that human connection and bonds is good for health is so big that one cannot argue against the point. Instead one is enticed to reflect about their own experiences and what they want out of life for themselves and the ones they love.
I guess no review is complete without listing some (but not all) types of evidence referred to in the author's prose. Pages 271 - 332 are Notes to the preceding prose.
* Animal studies that clearly show the need for contact and a sense of belonging.
* Studies of spouses, male and female, regarding a variety of social situations.
* Studies of how females and males share food and eat socially.
* Studies of longevity.
* Coffee breaks.
* Scandals, con-artists, fraudsters, and cheaters.
* Internet activity.
* Ancient societies.
Reading this book led to many reflections that make me want to reach out to others more often and habitually. I recommend it if for no other reason than its potential to engage more people in this discourse.
Susan Pinker makes a persuasive case. Her book is well-researched and well-written. She knows what she is talking about, and clearly has thought a lot about what she says. That face-to-face contact has a different effect on us humans than Internet or other contact makes a lot of sense. There's nothing face-to-face about Facebook. Humans have long been a very social species, and our modern lifestyles seem to bring a little alienation and distance between even people who live close to one another. Internet ties do little to bring the closeness that being together in the flesh brings.
But while the book made me think, I also thought the book had a big flaw -- making too much out of stories and experiences. Susan Pinker begins the book with a lengthy description of some people living long lives in a mountain village on the Italian island of Sardinia, arguing that their close social contacts lead to their long lives. That could be true. But it can also be that genetics play a part, or lifestyle, or environmental factors. Human beings are complex, not simple. It's dangerous to connect cause and effect based on anecdotes, no matter how powerful or detailed. That kind of science is too soft.
Some other things that bothered me are less important. The sister of Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker (the last name certainly caught my eye and made me wonder whether she was spouse, sister, or daughter), Susan Pinker works that fact into her book awfully casually, saying several times just "my brother Steve." She also makes some glowing remarks about her son and daughter and works them into the book in a way that seemed a little too pushy and personal. (Her husband too is mentioned, but just as an aside and in a much less personal way.)
And the blurbs from well-known authors like Daniel Pink and Charles Duhigg seemed to me unwarranted, and maybe due to her brother's name being the same as her own. That may be too harsh an indictment for the evidence I have, but her book seemed a far cry from a book like Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Not that there is anything wrong with different writing styles and different ways of thinking. But while Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature seems to me a book that everyone should read, Susan Pinker's The Village Effect seemed a lot less substance and a lot more fluff. Not a bad book, certainly, but not an outstanding one either.