It’s easier to connect than ever in this day and age. You can check in with a friend living halfway around the world from your bed, order flowers for a loved one while sitting in traffic, and even find an acquaintance from your childhood with three taps and a click. What happens when you don’t know someone’s phone number? You can just email them. Or message them. Try chatting them. Or poking them. Tweet at them. And if all else fails, google them. The paths to communication are endless. Yet with all these different mediums to connect, are people really connecting?
A study conducted in 2004 looked at the number of confidants that people had in their lives, confidants that they could discuss close personal issues with. In 1984, the mean network of confidants was 2.44. Only 19 years later, and the mean network size had dropped to 2.08. This, along with the fact that three times as many people in 2004 reported that they had no one to talk about important issues with, seem to point to the fact that while means of communication are increasing, close social bonds are actually on the decline.
In the book Bowling Alone, author Robert Putnam explores similar ideas. Based on his research, which includes nearly 500,000 interviews over 25 years, Putnam discusses how Americans are currently more disconnected from family, friends, and our communities than in the past. He has found that Americans today are members of fewer organizations that meet in person, know their neighbors less, socialize with friends less frequently, and even interact with their families with less regularity. This has caused, as he says, a plummeting in our social capital.
Evidence has shown that having convenient and immediate ways to communicate with others is not enough. As it turns out, just because someone is two clicks and a hashtag away does not mean that we are actually close to them. Confidants are just as important as the confidence social media can bring. We, both as individuals and as a society, need to find ways to prioritize the close friendships and relationships in our lives.