Americans are far more socially isolated today than they were two decades ago, and a sharply growing number of people say they have no one in whom they can confide, according to a comprehensive new evaluation of the decline of social ties in the United States.
A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two.
The comprehensive new study paints a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties — once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits — are shrinking or nonexistent. In bad times, far more people appear to suffer alone. ~The Washington Post
This story is now fairly old as the news cycle and the world of blogging goes, but since I did not have a chance to say anything about it earlier I thought I would note a couple of things that struck me about this.
First of all, it is stunning to me that so many people have so few close friends or even none at all. Perhaps it is a function of responding to the upheaval of nine years in academic flux, but I try to make a point of retaining and cultivating the close friends I have had over the years, and the idea that a quarter of all Americans have no one in whom they can confide seems almost unfathomable to me.
This is a significant confirmation that the constant mobility, upheaval, rootlessness and individualism of modern American life have come together to cut off millions of people from anything resembling real social, much less community, life. As the article notes, the people surveyed may have a horde of online contacts and numerous acquaintances with whom they correspond, but the depth of these relationships scarcely extends beyond the surface.
With trends like this, it is doubtful that appeals to a life centered around local community will have any meaning for people who have no idea what that community might resemble. These people might be hungry for real community, but might not even know how to go about finding it. Not only are these people lacking in koinonia, but they seem to be bereft, at a fundamental, intimate level, of even the most basic human affinities outside of the now increasingly unstable institution of marriage. I defy the libertarians out there to tell us that this trend towards isolation is a good development; I defy them to tell us that it is not a product of the very social and political individualism they champion, or that an even greater emphasis on the self would benefit all concerned.