Speaking of networks, a friend recently recommended Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam. I haven’t yet picked up the book, but I have read a few of Putnam’s articles. Dr. Putnam, a Harvard professor, claims that community bonds create a social capital. His research indicates that social capital has fallen dramatically in recent years.
According to Putnam, fewer people attend community meetings, host dinner parties, or even eat dinner with their families. People are more likely to bowl alone than with a team. Putnam uses “bowling alone” as a motif throughout the book of the same name.
His research shows that 10 minutes of commuting reduces social capital by 10%. I don’t have any stats to back me up, but I agree with Putnam. In fact, my family and I live in Vancouver’s West End because we believe there’s a sense of community among urbanites. We walk to work, the grocery store, the library, shops, and even the mall. Our respective commutes are less than 5 minutes. We have more time available for family, friends, and our community. And we feel a connection to our neighbourhood and even the pavement beneath our feet. Our concern for “social capital” was certainly a factor in our decision to live downtown.
Given the rise of social networking websites, I suspect many other people are looking for ways to reach out to others. While I’ve chosen to live downtown, others are reaching out for virtual realities like Bookcrossing and the Sims Online. For the moment, there may be many opportunities for quick-thinking social capital entrepreneurs. Until, of course, the next next thing shows up.