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Here is an example of network weaving that is a nice antidote to isolation.
On 06/30/06 9:30 PM, "Miller McPherson" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
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> A link to the original paper is at:
> On Fri, 30 Jun 2006, Andrew Cleary wrote:
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>> Wow, if that scare-mongering extrapolation is the "best", I'm afraid of
>> what the *worst* is... or by "best", did you mean "most dramatic misuse
>> of the original study?" (seriously: I'm not sure what you meant by
>> "best"). I have a hard time with a journalist telling people how they
>> should feel about the news the journalist is reporting (e.g. "it should
>> scare you").
>> The number of ways in which I disagree with Meyer's conclusions and
>> methods of drawing and reporting them are too numerous to list here. I
>> am glad that the authors of the study seem to be doing their best (as
>> they have reported on this list) to try to undo some of the damage that
>> these sensationalistic exaggerations have been doing, though I'll say
>> (having not read the original report) that if Meyer is accurate in
>> reporting that it said some of these things - "The number of people who
>> have someone to talk to about matters that are important to them has
>> declined dramatically we have gone from a quarter of the American
>> population being isolated to almost half of the populations falling
>> into that category," - then the authors brought some of this on
>> themselves by editorializing unnecessarily (here, choosing to define
>> "isolation" in terms of "reported number of confidants" when it isn't at
>> all clear that that is the best or even a good definition of
>> "isolation"), and that's leaving aside deeper issues such as whether
>> having less confidants might have a *positive* causal factor, e.g.
>> perhaps when people are happier overall they don't have as many problems
>> *requiring* confidants.
>>> -----Original Message-----
>>> From: Social Networks Discussion Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
>>> Behalf Of Matthew E. Brashears
>>> Sent: Friday, June 30, 2006 4:26 PM
>>> To: [log in to unmask]
>>> Subject: Social Isolation- Best report.
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>>> I think this is probably the best article on the Social Isolation
>>> seen yet:
>>> Go to CBSNews.com Home
>>> The Lonely States Of America
>>> WASHINGTON, June 29, 2006(CBS) This commentary was written by
>>> CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer.
>>> The American Sociological Review may have just published the social
>>> equivalent of the 1964 Surgeon General's report that declared smoking
>>> causes cancer. The unpleasant but long suspected discovery in this
>> case is
>>> that social isolation in America has grown dramatically in the past 20
>>> Some things are uncomfortable to know. We don't like knowing the earth
>>> getting hotter; some people choose not to believe it. In 1964, about
>>> of all adults smoked and they did not like knowing the habit caused
>>> cancer; some people chose not to believe it and some people still
>>> The scientific evidence about smoking and cancer existed long before
>>> 11, 1964, but when the famous report was issued that day, people
>>> believing it.
>>> I expect something quieter and more eggheaded but quite similar will
>>> happen with an academic paper with the vanilla title, "Social
>> Isolation in
>>> America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades." The
>>> authors, Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin and Matthew Brashears,
>>> sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona, have no such wild
>>> pretensions, but I think they've documented an enormous, stunning
>>> change so clearly that it will alter the way we look at social and
>>> political life. It should.
>>> And it should scare you.
>>> The authors set out to empirically describe how socially connected
>>> Americans are by asking them questions like, "Who are the peoplewith
>>> you discussed matters important to you?" They did this as part of the
>>> General Social Survey, the Rolls Royce of face-to-face social surveys
>>> has been conducted almost every year since 1972. In 2004, they
>>> replicated questions about social networks that had not been asked
>>> Because the findings are so stark and clear, and come with no
>>> and philosophic adornment, I'll let the numbers speak for themselves
>>> blunt bullet points:
>>> # From 1985 to 2004, "the number of people saying there is no one with
>>> whom they discuss important matters nearly tripled." Now, 24.6 percent
>>> report they have no confidants, family or non-family that's one in
>>> Americans. Another 19.6 percent say they have just one confidant. That
>>> means 43 percent of Americans have either no confidants or just one, a
>>> slice that has doubled since 1985.
>>> # More than half, 53.4 percent, do not have any confidants who aren't
>>> family. In 1985, 80 percent had at least one confidant who was not
>>> now only 57.2 percent do.
>>> # The average size of Americans' social networks decreased by a third
>>> between 1985 and 2004, from 2.94 to 2.08; basically this means the
>> loss of
>>> one confidant.
>>> # The kinds of relationships that decreased the most in providing
>>> important contacts were neighbors and co-members of groups or
>>> associations (as opposed to spouse, sibling, parent, co-worker, etc.)
>>> # Women have more family in their networks than men, as they did in
>>> But then they had fewer non-kin close relationships than men did. Now
>>> women have about the same number of confidants outside family as do
>>> Unfortunately, that isn't because women have made more contacts
>>> kin, but because men have fewer.
>>> # More education correlates with having larger social networks.
>>> and the elderly are populations with smaller networks.
>>> Don't let yourself be numbed by the numbers because they tell a
>>> story even though there are no victims, tears or sound bites.
>>> The bottom line: "The number of people who have someone to talk to
>>> matters that are important to them has declined dramatically we have
>>> from a quarter of the American population being isolated to almost
>>> of the populations falling into that category."
>>> Stop and think about that for a second. Almost half the people around
>>> have at most one person they feel they can talk to about what is most
>>> important to them. Seems like a pretty lousy social system we've got
>>> here, doesn't it?
>>> Does this cold statistical portrait comport with your own experience
>>> the world and the people you are acquainted with? My first gut answer
>>> "no." But when I thought about it harder, the answer changed. There
>>> people who I think are frighteningly isolated even in my company, my
>>> neighborhood, my extended family and the community based around my
>>> school and these are all social networks by definition. The most
>>> isolated, of course, I wouldn't even come across much.
>>> The authors were even more surprised at the findings and looked for
>>> possible reason why the results could be wrong. They explored whether
>>> people have different notions of the word "discuss" or "important"
>>> they did 20 years ago. They looked for technical problems in the
>>> But the news stayed bad.
>>> So what explains this seismic social thud?
>>> The paper eliminates a couple suspects. It is not caused by great
>>> geographic mobility the corporate nomad syndrome. It is not caused by
>>> employment rates. It does not correlate with increased television
>>> watching. Most importantly, it is not caused by the demographic facts
>>> the population is aging and more ethnically diverse; if it were, those
>>> trends would have been countered by the increased educational levels
>>> 1985, since education leads to larger networks.
>>> That means the answers will be deep and complicated.
>>> Though they are mostly into documenting not explaining, the authors do
>>> out a couple of hypotheses. The main culprits are work time and
>>> Both have increased since 1985 and both take time away from families,
>>> friends and voluntary participation. As women entered the workforce in
>>> bulk, the total number of hours family members spent working outside
>>> home went way up. As people fled the cities, suburbs and exurbs boomed
>>> so did commute times.
>>> This especially affects "middle-aged, better-educated, higher-income
>>> families." As the paper points out, these are exactly the people who
>>> neighborhoods and volunteer groups and those are the social structures
>>> that have most atrophied in the past 20 years.
>>> The more speculative hypothesis is that perhaps new communications
>>> technologies have led to people forming wider, but weaker social ties
>>> are less dependent on geography. E-mail and cheap phone calling have
>>> it easier to stay in frequent, sometimes constant touch with lots of
>>> people, no matter where they are.
>>> These weak ties are different than the confidant ties that this study
>>> measures, but the authors are open to the idea that a network of
>>> ties can provide equally meaningful, but different, social support (a
>>> supported by a quantitative study done by two university of Toronto
>>> sociologists for the Pew Internet & American Life Project). But they
>>> point out the obvious: "some services and emotional support" do depend
>>> Certainly, it's hard to escape complaints about the busy-ness and
>>> time-stress of life these days; it's an obvious, bad problem. For most
>>> people I know, it is exacerbated by the technology that is meant to
>>> it easier for us to communicate and stay connected. Instead of feeling
>>> touch, many feel on a leash. Portable, gadget driven communication
>>> count as soul-feeding bonding for many people I know, but is rather a
>>> cruel mockery.
>>> I do suspect that this study overlooks one simple contributing factor,
>>> decline of real geographic communities places where people grow up
>>> their parents grew up, where non-nuclear relatives live near by, where
>>> friendships and acquaintances go across generations.
>>> Explaining social isolation will be controversial, but not as
>> difficult as
>>> repairing it.
>>> In primitive and survival-dependent societies, social isolation was
>>> basically impossible. But modern societies have never been without
>>> existential worries about isolation and loneliness; it is one of the
>>> defining marks of modernity. Literary and philosophic examinations of
>>> American souls and social life began with the very first American
>>> like Ben Franklin's autobiography.
>>> Looking at these issues empirically is a different matter. Social
>>> statistics aren't the stuff of teen angst, novels and high culture.
>>> the story they tell is just as disturbing and just as hard for society
>>> accept. Recent social science research, for example, about the decline
>>> civic engagement and community participation has been exceedingly
>>> controversial and contested. There are even larger objections to the
>>> that "social science" can ever get a handle on these kinds of issues
>> in a
>>> way that is at all scientific.
>>> It is hard to believe and accept that we live in a society where one
>>> person in four feels they don't have someone to confide in. It's
>>> depressing and even somewhat terrifying. We can, of course, ignore it
>>> and choose to keep on smoking.
>>> Dick Meyer is the editorial director of CBSNews.com.
>>> E-mail questions, comments, complaints, arguments and ideas to
>>> Against the Grain. We will publish some of the interesting (and civil)
>>> ones, sometimes in edited form.
>>> By Dick Meyer
>>> MMVI, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.
>>> Matthew Brashears
>>> Graduate Student
>>> Department of Sociology
>>> University of Arizona
>>> "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge."
>>> -Charles Darwin
>>> "The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in
>>> those who think alike than those who think differently."
>>> -Frederich Wilhelm Nietzsche
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> ******************************** *
> Miller McPherson * *
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