Sunday, June 25, 2006


Social connections

On NPR yesterday, an item titled Social Isolation: Americans Have Fewer Close Confidantes, told us that, on average, each American has only two close friends in whom they can confide, compared with three such friends twenty years ago:

Debbie Elliott speaks with sociology professor Lynn Smith-Lovin of Duke University about a new survey documenting what seems to be Americans' growing social isolation. Back in 1985, respondents reported, on average, that they had three people in their lives who were close confidantes. They now report having two people with whom they can discuss important personal topics.
The study cites increased work schedules and technological tune-out as reasons for the change. Almost one quarter of those studied said they had no one to confide in at all. (Here's a link to a Washington Post article about the study.)

I find this remarkable: as I listened to it I thought about what my answer would be, and I would say that I have six or eight such friends. The exact number would vary for any particular issue, of course, but I feel that I have many close friendships and a good social support network, and that there are friends I can rely on when I need to. I've always considered myself very fortunate to have that, but I'd assumed I wasn't in such a minority.

I'll have to read the full paper (obtained from the American Sociological Review home page) — all I've looked at so far are the news reports — and I'm curious about the questions that were asked, and how this was evaluated. In particular, I wonder if people feel that the need for someone to talk to is satisfied by things like blogging. I'd also like to see how the numbers break down by age, and whether younger people rely more on technology.


wooddragon said...

I found this a little wacky, too. And one article claimed it was the internet, and another claimed it was TV.

The internet, to me, feels like it has enhanced closeness, rather than added distance.

But... I could be wrong...

Barry Leiba said...

I think you're not wrong; it feels the same to me. I've a much more extensive comment in today's blog entry.