Bowling Alone

by Robert D. Putnam

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Robert D. Putnam’s Bowling Alone addresses the changing socioeconomic climate that has led to a decrease in socialization and squandered opportunities for societal and personal improvement as well as reduced the bonds that people tend to share. He believes that an increase in what he calls "social capital"—the trust and connection between people—would help to improve the race and political relations that seem so stressed today.

Growing Social Disconnection as a Result of Technology

Putnam addresses the trends of decreasing social capital and growing social disconnection due to changes in the structure of life and technology. He acknowledges that, as cities develop and life changes, people naturally adapt their social tendencies. One of the great benefits of society in the 1950s and the surrounding decades, Putnam argues, was urbanization and the centering of life on the center of the city.

Putnam believes that because people were moving to urban environments during this time, they had more opportunities to interact and socialize with one another. Now, the trend has reversed due to soaring real estate prices, a belief that cities are unsafe, and the availability of technology and transportation that makes distance more acceptable. Putnam also addresses technology and believes that it has thus far had a negative impact on social capital but could be beneficial if it was focused on improving face-to-face relationships.

The Benefits of Social Capital

Putnam believes that socialization and social capital can help people to bond, which has an array of benefits. This bonding has the potential to tear down economic, racial, and political boundaries that segregate the nation. In addition, he mentions bridging social capital, which helps to improve the economy and individual livelihood. Social connections that can be used for networking, developing businesses and social programs, and helping others are built through socialization. These can improve peoples’ lives and change the economic climate in which we live.

The Impact of Education on Socialization

Putnam clearly states that educational differences are not the cause of a lack of socialization but that a decrease in overall education level and availability of schooling have dramatic impacts on social capital. People need, he reasons, things to discuss, debate, and relate over. Education also helps overcome social prejudices, which improves socialization. Each of these ideas bolsters Putnam’s overall point that we as a society need to improve our relationships and become more engaged in socialization in order to improve ourselves and the world around us.

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