Is America experiencing a “social recession”? | Anton Ceballo

ever since the infamous scheme shows it Fewer people than ever are having sex At first, there was a growing interest in the state of America’s social health. Polling showed significant declines in all areas of social life, including close friendships, intimate relationships, trust, work participation, and community participation. This ongoing shift is called the “friendship recession” or the “social recession” — and though it will be years before this is clearly demonstrated, it is almost certainly made worse by the pandemic.

This decline comes alongside a documented rise in mental illness, despondency, and poor health in general. In August 2022, the CDC announced that life expectancy in the United States was He fell back to what it was in 1996. Compare this with Western Europe, where life expectancy is much lower Greatly rebounded pre-pandemic numbers. Even before the pandemic, the years 2015-2017 saw an outbreak longest sustained decline in life expectancy in the United States since 1915-18, when the United States was grappling with the 1918 flu and World War I.

The topic has directly or indirectly generated a whole kind of commentary from many different angles. Many of them touch on the fact that the Internet is not built with social goals in mind. Increasingly becoming a monopoly across a few major entities, online life and its data has become the hottest commodity. Thus, a person’s daily interest has become the rarest resource to be extracted. Other viewpoints, often on the left, emphasize economic fragility and the deterioration of public space as reasons for the rise of anomaly.

Some of these same criticisms have been adopted before new right, who additionally condemn culture as a whole for undermining a society’s traditions, be it gender or family norms. Believing it to disproportionately affect men, this attitude has produced several lifestyle spin-offs: Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), nostalgia for traditional life, rarely male groups and a bustling culture with an emphasis on “beating the rat race”. “. All of these subcultures are symptoms of social stagnation in some way, for better or worse.

Pundits, politicians, bureaucrats, and the like in general have focused on the ability of social stagnation to incubate political extremism. Entire institutes have been set up to study, monitor and monitor extremist trends on the Internet backed by antisocial loneliness. A new buzzword often used in this field is “indiscriminate terrorism— meaning acts of violence indirectly driven by messages of hate spread through mass communication — and much of this discussion has focused on the need to contain some of the dangerous unknown elements that grip the frustrated online. The goal here is not to solve an insidious problem, but instead to calm its screaming outbursts.

We have no clear comparative basis by which to judge what will emerge from the growing number of people who feel lost, lonely, or invisible. The closest comparison comes from the early 20th century when millions of provincial residents first moved to the big cities to pursue their dreams. Many uprooted themselves only to be poor and unfulfilled. In The Sleepwalkers (1930), the Austrian novelist Hermann Bruch rooted the panorama of World War I in “The Solitude of I.” Similarly, nobody cares about Gregor Samsa in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915), And poor Samsa is forced to go to work despite not recognizing himself anymore. In W. H. Auden’s poem “The Age of Anxiety” (1948), he described the alienated product of mass industrial society: “The wretched is evil to me / How pleasant I am.”

People at a Christmas church service
Church attendance has decreased since 1999. Photo: Bob Demrich/Zuma PressWire/REX/Shutterstock

While data and opinion polls have their limitations, they are a useful starting point for discussing social stagnation in concrete terms and whether it is here to stay.

Political scientist Robert D. Putnam published his study “Bowling Alone: ​​The Collapse and Revival of American Society” in 2000 where he was highly praised for the breadth of his research. The book documents the decline of social contact in the United States since the 1950s by tracing the dwindling numbers of Americans who frequented religious and civic organizations, volunteer work, sports clubs, hobbyist groups, and so forth.

The book was one of the first to quantify that traditional American society was in decline. It remains a staple of political science courses. However, many of the scales used in the study are a bit outdated today. Even the title does not excite the importance it once had since then Not even bowling He survived the decline of social activities. Furthermore, in the year 2000, it was much easier to see the trend as “fixable” because it was not overwhelmingly determined by any one factor.

Putnam’s work is an assessment of social life prior to the full mass adoption of the Internet. Obviously, this world will never return. If we take one metric commonly cited in the book, church membership, the decline Putnam describes is exceptionally mild compared to what came after. In 1999, according to Gallup, 70% of Americans reported belonging to a church, synagogue, or mosque. By 2020—two decades after Putnam’s book—it’s already down to 47%.

It’s also worth considering a simple metric: screen time, a proxy for time spent not doing community activities in person. Instead of bowling alone, Americans instead surf alone – more than seven hours a day, on average, with the number rising each year. As of 2021, 31% of Americans claim to be online”Almost constantly“.

If we’re surfing alone rather than bowling alone, the real metric to look at is the friendships themselves. The past few decades have seen a sharp decline in the number of people’s reported friends. The number of Americans who claim to have “no close friends at all” across all age groups is now about 12%, according to Survey Center on American Life. By comparison, only 2% of Americans said they had no close friends in 2003, according to Gallup. The lack of friendship is more common among men, but it nonetheless affects everyone.

Although studies of this topic tend to be general estimates for the entire population, they look even worse when we focus on generations that grew up online. When exclusively polling American millennials, this was a pre-pandemic YouGov poll 2019 It found that 22% had “no friends” and 30% had “no close friends”. For those born between 1997 and 2012 (Generation Z), there hasn’t been a large-scale, credible study done on this question – but if you’ve been around the expanses of the Internet, you already intuitively understand that these online stimuli run deep into the next. Obstetrics.

Another worrying trend is called “delayed puberty,” which is particularly common among those born from the 1990s onwards. The term refers to a delay Traditional milestones of adulthood such as getting a driver’s license, moving out of the house, dating, starting a business, etc.

The trend became evident starting in the 2000s. In 2019, it was compiled into a comprehensive study titled Declining adult activities among American adolescents, 1976-2016. The same paper found a similar decrease in the number of times high school students went out without their parents. Some of this isn’t necessarily “bad,” and it’s more symptomatic than anything else. For example, late adulthood It is connected to Less willingness to engage in risky behavior such as delinquency or heavy drinking.

While risk avoidance can be a positive, it also tracks a decline in sociability and is therefore combined with other personal costs. Mental health among people native to the Internet It continues to deteriorate Central increase in the so-called Diseases of despair – substance abuse, suicidal ideation, etc. – in the United States in general. These were the main reasons for the decline in life expectancy before the pandemic.

girl on the phone
The situation is even worse when we focus exclusively on the generations that grew up with the Internet. Photo: Solstock/Getty Images

Then there is the rapid increase in the number of people who have not had sexual relations since they turned 18, in an unprecedented time of sex positivity no less. Writer Catherine D overturn this common understanding, arguing that we are witnessing a wave of the body”sexual negativityrather than free love. The results of this inversion are not unexpected. Although popular culture often paints a picture of young men smitten with app-assisted sex and dating, the reality is that a disembodied, extended online life produces less physical intimacy.

All of this is missing the building block of society: trust. The past 50 years have seen America transform from a high-trust society to a low-trust society, accompanied by a breakdown of power at all levels: social, political and institutional. In 2022, trust Projection to a new low-mid low—a twist that’s been the trend since the 1970s.

Americans understand this confidence shrank among the general population, according to Pew Research. The vast majority “worry about a low level of trust in each other.” Many also feel that they no longer recognize their country, although this recording is perhaps somewhat caught up in political partisanship. The erosion of trust in the United States began decades ago, after Watergate and the “crisis of confidence” during the 1970s, but it connects our current age with more of the familiar cynicism of the past. Skepticism towards the state has evolved into a more general distrust of society at large, constantly amplified by the Internet.

From all of this data, we can draw a new persona, a growing minority in our society: people who are connected, frustrated and often feel invisible. Carl Jung wrote that personal meaning comes “when people feel that they are living the symbolic life, that they are represented in the divine drama.” In our increasingly degraded social society, what often enters is nostalgia, exaggerated hatred and a desire for redemption.

For now, the frustrated are only beginning to agitate the political establishment, which is mostly led by people of an older generation grouped in a different way. The present government of the United States has been named by virtue of old age and “The oldest government in [US] HistoryAs of 2022, more than 23% of members of Congress are over the age of 70, and the median age is 61.5. American political power has thus far only sporadically felt the effects of the new individual at the polls, while at the same time catching up with the public Therefore, the policy of social stagnation has only just begun.

In his book The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium (2013), media and political theorist Martin Gurry argues that the digital public lacks a coherent platform and is motivated by denial and a desire to demolish idols and power. We cannot expect the new individual to be simply contained in his or her alienation, in calmness and solitude. This alienation will inform beliefs about how society is organized and will be the core of some future worldview, whatever it may be.

This process cannot be easily undone. We cannot expect the political administration from above to contain these social sentiments. A healthier alternative involves rethinking the infrastructure of the Internet for pro-social ends, with platforms owned by the people who use them and designed with the privileges of society in mind.

I’m not going to pretend to know what that would look like, because a lot of it has to happen organically. While the trends described here may be a “new normal” in the sense that they cannot be reversed, I still believe there is another, more positive kind of online community imaginable. No need to join the internet in a perpetual social slump.

  • Anton Cepalo is a writer and historian. He is the author of the Substack Newsletter Novumwhere a version of this article was first published

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