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<nettime> bowling alone
Benjamin Geer on Tue, 24 Aug 2004 18:38:47 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> bowling alone

A posting from rattus norvegicus <wbario {AT} tin.it> on the rekombinant
mailing list, suggesting that the Internet has contributed to making
Americans less sociable and less politically active, and Italians more so:


I've translated some of rattus's posting from Italian:


Sociologist Robert Putnam's book _Bowling Alone_ (2000) seems to have gone
unnoticed by many observers of American politics....

It is an important text for its portrait of the decline in Americans'
social involvement.  Putnam studied endless statistics on the social
behaviour of US citizens during the past 40 years, and drew some rather
impressive conclusions.  The amount of time Americans spend with friends
has decreased by 35% in the past 15 years.  They sign 30% fewer petitions
than they did at the end of the 80s.  Extrapolitical social activities
have fared no better: in the middle of the 70s, the average American
attended a club, cultural association or church once a month;  this
frequency has since dropped by 60%.  In 1975 Americans got together with
friends at home 15 times a year on average; now they do so only half as

Putnam perceptively lists the consequences of this social disaster,
particularly its negative effects on health, culture, education, etc.

There is an intriguing element in Putnam's explanations of this phenomenon
of progressive isolation: although he singles out electronic entertainment
as one of the main causes (among many others) of the privatisation of free
time, he suspends judgement on the Internet.

It's no coincidence that Scott Heiferman, the CEO of MeetUp.com, a site
that boasts more than a million members, maintains that his global meeting
system was inspired by Putnam's book.  It's worth reflecting on this in
relation to the impact of the Internet on different cultures, considering
the differences between the US and Europe....

Recent statistics from Censis seem to show a correlation [in Italy]
between Internet usage and political participation: "The type of person
who takes to the streets is, in particular: male (14.4%, compared to 9.4%
among women), young (15.3% among people aged 18-34, compared to 12.8%
among those aged 35-64 and 4.4% among those 65 and over), a university
graduate (16%, compared to 5% who have only finished primary school),
employed (13.7%) or a student (30.7%), and lives in a medium-sized city in
the Centre-South of Italy.  But above all he is an Internet user.  In the
past year, those who use the Internet demonstrated much more than those
who don't (17% compared to 8.1%); a good familiarity with the Internet
therefore represents a valuable resource that translates into a culture of
socio-political participation."

Still, one is left with the feeling that as far as the social and
political effects of the Internet are concerned, we're still in an
embryonic phase, in which many paths are still to be explored.

Wittgenstein, in one of his metaphors, suggested that we make a
distinction between the movement of water along a riverbed, and the
displacement of the riverbed itself, even though, between the two, there
isn't a clear distinction.


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