PLN’s, Isolated Networks, and Bowling Alone

Mike Lemon made an excellent blog post about Personal Learning Networks that I would like to expound on. That post reminded me of something my dad brought to my attention. He told me that after being employed as an associate of Latham & Watkins for 5 years he had flown enough to be a lifetime gold member of American Airlines. That’s a lot of flying! He flew that often to close deals, find clients, and ensure things were running smoothly. Today, as a partner, he is lucky to step foot out of the office to sleep. He does more deals in a month than he used to do in a year, but he knows virtually none of the faces that are behind a phone number or email. His question? How much isolated connection are we willing to take before we have a desire to go out and meet our neighbors again?

I can see evidence of this digital connectedness and social isolation in my own life. At times I feel much more comfortable giving compliments through a text message than I do in person.  Is it that I only notice the items I compliment when I am sending a text message?  Of course not!  In fact, it is much more difficult to find things to compliment when you are not physically with a person. Its just that I like the feeling of being protected by my own personal digital wall.  Even today, I passed up an opportunity to be a gentleman because I was too afraid to do so.  I saw a woman who was on crutches trying to get into her car. I could have walked over, opened her car door, helped her get in, and then placed her crutches in the back of her car. But I simply walked by. You could have been sure that if she had posted that she was struggling on Facebook, I would have been the first to comment with consoling words of comfort. Without my digital wall, I feel vulnerable to the reactions of others.

Thanks to Jeffrey Whitlock for pointing to the book Bowling Alone. I have read part of that book and find it fascinating.  It talks about how even though we have more “friends” than we ever had, we are also more isolated.  Registration in High School clubs have gone down. Book clubs are on the decline. Community groups are having to be disbanded. And so on and so forth.  The only social event that has been reaching a record number of participants is bowling.  But even then, bowling leauges have had declining memberships.  It seems as if in America, we prefer to bowl alone.  Unless of course, we can get together with our friends and play that new bowling game on Facebook.

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3 thoughts on “PLN’s, Isolated Networks, and Bowling Alone

  1. The advent of the digital age and online social networks has presented an interesting paradox, as you point out; we are more connected digitally–we can share more thoughts and ideas with more people now than ever before–but we are more isolated in person. These new modes of electronic communication enhance our relationships in some ways and detract in others. How do we find a balance? Can anything really equal the time spent in someone’s physical presence? Or will new technology find a substitute that people will accept?

  2. Great post, Eric! I also read part of Bowling Alone, so I have a question. Putnam’s observations come from traditional organizations (churches, bowling leagues, civic groups, etc.), but what about non traditional meetings (having dinner with friends, study groups, book clubs, etc.)? Is it even possible to gather statistics for these personal organizations, or am I off the mark?

  3. Pingback: 42 « Hakuna Matata

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