Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485
The book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam is an essay on the desocialization of American society throughout the latter half of the 20th century. The author analyzes the trends of social gatherings and the benefit they offer to society at large, and he shows how, beginning roughly in the 1960's, a reversal has occurred and fewer numbers of people are gathering in social groups.
The average American in recent decades has been far from isolated civically or socially, but we seem more engaged with one another as friends than as citizens.
The entire concept behind this essay is that socialization is being removed from public life, but it is happening in a way that doesn't necessarily isolate people. The concept of community is being reformed and people are separating their social lives from their political and civic lives, which has led to a downturn in the amount of healthy communal political debate, effective social activism, and similar ideas. Putnam is stating here that, of course, people are still interacting with one another as much as ever, but it's not necessarily as productive for society.
The state-level findings are suggestive, but far more definitive evidence of the benefits of community cohesion is provided by a wealth of studies that examine individual health as a function of individual social-capital resources.
The study Putnam refers to show that states with a higher level of social cohesion and communal relationships excel in a number of areas when it comes to physical health, including maternal care, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, suicides, immunizations, and much more. The results are baffling because they don't seem to be a direct result of people helping each other out or doing anything specific, but there is a clear and definitive trend of better health among communities with higher social engagement and capital. Putnam even goes as far as stating that, if these studies are to be taken seriously, the social cohesion crisis may be the most important and dangerous health crisis in the United States today, which the data supports.
On the contrary, my message is that we desperately need an era of civic inventiveness to create a renewed set of institutions and channels for a reinvigorated civic life that will fit the way we have come to live.
Putnam highlights many of the civic organizations that have contributed to social cohesion, like the Boy Scouts and League of Women Voters, but he proves that people can't simply copy history. Instead, Americans need to find new forms of social cohesion in today's society, especially in light of the technological advancements and pervasiveness of media that make it extremely easy to separate ourselves from one another. Putnam argues that, among other things, it is important to develop technology that will help facilitate and improve face-to-face interaction. This will help people relate more directly to one another and encourage social capital, which will improve society at large.