Monday, July 03, 2006

Blogging alone.

How many people in your life can you talk to about the matters that are closest to your heart? According to a NY Times article, a study out of Duke found that the answer to this question for the average American adult is two. This is a fairly flimsy personal support system--the loss of just one confidant means almost a wholesale destruction of one's inner circle. This is concerning because previous studies about strength of social networks have linked them to things as important as life expectancy, educational outcomes, and drug addiction recovery. As the article points out, this study harkens back to the work by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone, where he decried Americans' shrinking store of social capital. It's hard to know how to take Putnam's findings or those of a study like this one--findings like this are often used to support statements about proper family structure (women in the workplace is one possible causal mechanism used to explain this data), or to point out that American values have gone down the tubes. So while it seems intuitive that broader social networks are better, and that we might want the average American to have more close confidants, it pays to be leery of the possible significances that are extrapolated from data like this. And, at least in the case of Putnam's work, other scholars have raised serious questions about the narrowness of his data collection and his definition of social network. Still, something to mull over. (As a side note, unlike in Putnam's original work, it's nice that this particular article allows for the possibility that social capital can develop through some of our modern electronic pursuits... maybe you're increasing your life expectancy by reading Daily Irk!)


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