Blog posts on Robert Putnam, “Thinking about Social Change in America,” Chapter 1 from _Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community_

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40 thoughts on “Blog posts on Robert Putnam, “Thinking about Social Change in America,” Chapter 1 from _Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community_

  1. As I started reading the chapter, the subject of young people not joining ‘old’ and traditional communities is a subject I had never given much thought to. It is true and sad that, perhaps, the lives we live today (21st century) do not allow us to spend time in meetings and events that might even sound boring and irrelevant for our lives. The reason for that is, I believe, as life’s got busier and faster than ever since after World War two, parents stopped teaching their children some of the values of community and helping one another. As a result their children learned to be selfish, individualized, absorbing wrong values from a dirty media and from the streets.
    What I found most interesting in the chapter was when the author starts to talk about social capital. It relates a lot to what we talked in class about a strong community of participative individuals making it strong. However, it is wrong to say that more recent generations have lost their sense of community, because they actually never got one. As the author presents, a strong community generates benefits for every individual, and so it stimulates one to keep it working well. I believe the teachings from class were crucial helping me to understand this chapter as I was reading it.

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  2. I agree that kids today are not joiners as much as they used to be. The idea of a community and getting involved was much stronger years ago. Thinking about sports for instance, a few years ago a high school male athlete would typically play on the football team, basketball team, track, and maybe even baseball team. Now, athletes are picking to “specialize” in one sport and dedicating their time to just on activity instead of many. I also liked the authors definition of general reciprocity, “I’ll do this for you without expecting anything specific back from you, in the confident expectation that someone else will do something for me down the road.” I would say many people do participate in this definition of reciprocity however I believe more people in this modern era focus on a different kind of reciprocity, the “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine” kind of reciprocity. I believe today individuals except something back when doing a deed for another person, instead of considering it a kind deed people are considering it a ‘now you owe me’ deed. The author also stated, “Bonding social capital is, as Xavier de Souza Briggs puts it, good for “getting by,” but bridging social capital is crucial for “getting ahead.” I liked this statement because many times people are so focused on the bonding social capital that they do not diversify their groups. By giving a group diversity and focusing on bridging capital it allows for more connections and more networks, therefore allowing you group to “get ahead” or to learn and achieve more than you would with the same bonding capital. I agree with the authors overall theme, “we Americans need to reconnect with one another.” It is important that we as Americans focus less on smaller aspects of community and look at the bigger picture of our community to unify for the greater good of our country.

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  3. Putnam describes that the argument upon social capitalism and social change in community is simply this: Americans today need to reconnect. I would have to agree with this, that we as a society have started to focus on the individual rather than the community to which the individual belongs in. Traditions of the past have started to fall away and instead of helping one another our primary focus has gone to how we can help ourselves. Clearly stated in what was read we see how social capital refers to connections among society and how this has made certain communities a firm foundation to lean against. You see a lot of networking taking place in order for reciprocal social relations to form. In these networks a lot of times you see mutual gain between two individuals. This kind of gain is the idea that if I help you you help me. This forms stronger bonds to help connect and make firm the community. There is even generalized reciprocity which is the thought that even if an individual does something to help some one else out there is no expectation for something in return, but they are confident that that person will do it anyway. In my opinion this is very true and you see a great deal of this take place on a daily basis. Though this is happening the goal is to build trust among its individuals so that there becomes a more connected community. People don’t want to associate themselves as selfish, but to the core of our human nature, to an extent we are. The next focus has to do with bonding and bridging social capital in the networks that take place. Bonding social capital is getting by while bridging social capital is referred to as getting ahead. I agree with this statement that a lot of times people just want to cruise on by in life, but the individuals who strive to be noticed and make a diverse group setting are the ones who are getting ahead. I liked this article a lot because the arguments were really well stated and backed up by physical evidence on society, community, and looking toward the future.

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    • Putnam’s first chapter in “Bowling Alone” brought up some compelling points about the change of communities over the years. Putnam claims that community involvement is not as high anymore as it was in the past and that kids today do not join organizations as much as they used to. I completely believe this claim to be true. Lifestyle in the 21st century is dramatically different from what it used to be in prior decades. People have become increasingly busy, with work and academic expectations higher than ever. Also, I believe the recent increase in technology could play a role in the lack of involvement of kids since they have become increasingly infatuated with their devices rather than personal relationships.
      One of the key points Putnam makes about community involvement is about social capital, which he defines as “connections among individuals-social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them”. An example of social capital I found interesting and relatable was the idea of networking. Networking is forming a connection to benefit your self. It is based on whom you know, not what you know. When networking, you are building social capital by increasing the amount of social relationships and resources available to you.

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      • 5 points (for the paulsonanna post). By definition, social capital is about building networks for mutual benefit, not just benefit for the self. This doesn’t mean you don’t benefit personally, but there also has to be the broader benefit, too.

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  4. This week we mainly focus on the differences between two author’s ideas about community which make a great compare-contrast relationship.I feel really interesting about this two article’s difference that the second one focus a lot in the positive and negative effect in social capital part.The author talks about the benefit that if the social capital exist,people would more likely to treat most the strangers as trust worthy other than questionable(in the article it said that the statistic are increase by”66%-76%”or something).At the same time,the author states that when people help others they would always have kind of expectation that others would help them back after a while.On the negative side,the author says when social capital become a group of huge energy,the relationship beyond people would let them do some abominable things together which they won’t do it by their own.Since relationship in my country is a sensitive word,I used to see people in my country bribe principal which could let them kids go to a good public school(which should be allocate randomly).Also,I’ve saw that the manager of a company briber fire control supervisor which could let them operate company without standard fire-fighting equipment(everybody knows that there was a huge explosion in Tianjin in recent days,I guess it is the true reason for this disaster).Consequently,I think that a good society should divided social capital into different situation and “use” it legally.

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  5. It does seem as though community participation isn’t as strong as it should be. This is most prevalent to me in another class I am taking called Economics and Financing. It’s a class geared towards sports and one of the main issues in this realm is ticket sales and maintaining attendance. Many large athletics programs never had to worry about ticket sales before. Stadiums would fill at the drop of a hat. More recently, many schools are starting to see attendance numbers drop. The community isn’t as willing to participate in these events. Now of course some of it has to do with rising ticket prices, but I do believe that the community, both young and old are finding themselves a little less connected. All of our interests can be found in the comforts of our own home. Bowling Alone talks a lot about civic participation, which is even more important than community entertainment. The connections between each person in our communities reflect this idea of social capital that Robert Putnam explains so well. The stronger the connections between us, the better success the community enjoys. From this reading I’m gathering that we must work on our personal relationships with those around us before being able to make our communities better.

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    • 5 points. Ticket sales of athletic events is an interesting measure to think about. By itself, buying a ticket to a sports event and going to it really by themselves don’t build social capital do they? What would be interesting to study is what happens as a result of and during that event attendance and how that builds social capital.

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  6. I definitely found myself questioning this article a bit. Back home in Moline, Illinois, our community organizations seem to thrive. My dad belonged to a bowling league with friends before his shoulder got too bad for him to play regularly. There were about 6 people on his team, and there were several other teams. I’d wager to day anywhere from 20 to 30 if memory serves. Local community orchestras, church organizations (and there a lot of churches back home), bingo clubs, and several other things saw consistently high membership. Also, I feel Iowa City is pretty involved as well in terms of community. In my mind, this either means that this whole decrease in community organization varies greatly from place to place, or that we are already on the upturn after the decline, as Putnam said is the trend. I couldn’t help but feel that the examples Putnam used may have been a bit cherry-picked, but that just might be fro my privilege of growing up in a very welcoming city. It was still an interesting article with a bit of welcome humor.

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    • 5 points. I think it’s true that civic participation will vary from community to community. As well, as we noted, Putnam’s book came out 15 years ago, and it would be interesting to see what updated numbers look like. The most important thing, though, to take away from the chapter is the definition of social capital and the various concepts that relate to it.

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  7. What I found most interesting about this article was Robert Putnam’s overall view on social capital. After reading this it is easy to believe social capital can be good in one setting but not necessarily in another one. That is why I believe bonding has its negative consequences. For instance, there are gangs and factions that promote hate crimes. It can also leave those outside the group excluded the benefits one may receive from being inside the group. Even Putnam says, Bonding social capital, by creating strong in-group loyalty, may also create strong out-group antagonism, as Thomas Greene and his neighbors in New Bedford knew, and for that reason we might expect negative external effects to be more common with this form of social capital”. This is why I prefer bridging. Bridging is the concept of branching social networks between different groups. This lets these groups converse information and ideas to in order to move forward in society. I believe both can easily exist if they are balanced and work together. This is I perceive them both being positive in the long run. Though one may carry its negatives, I believe both need to exist for society’s sake. I believe Putnam touches on this by saying In short, bonding and bridging are not “either-or” categories into which social networks can be neatly divided, but “more or less” dimensions along which we can compare different forms of social capital”. This is very true, they are not “either or” this is why one in particular doesn’t work in a specific setting.

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    • 5 points. Yes, the balance is what’s most important, as is the case with nearly everything we will talk about. A good society (and a community) needs both bonding and bridging social capital, just as Selznick said that a community needs all of the various characteristics he outlines, even though they sometimes somewhat contradict each other.

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  8. This chapter by Robert D. Putnam is basically saying that Americans need to reconnect like they used to and engage in community activities much more than they do today. The community activity in this society is decreasing and participation is becoming more rare day by day. I believe that there are several different factors that play a role in letting this happen, but I think that the main reason is that people have become so busy and caught up in a very modernized world, very different than the one that was here a long time ago. The definition of ‘having fun’ nowadays is definitely not the same as before. In the past, it involved more of getting together and going outdoors. Today, people get together and have a movie night, for example. This tends to keep people involved with the same group of people over and over again, rather than getting involved with a community as a whole.
    Putnam also talks about the social capital concept and how we have a declining social capital. Again, this is due to the lack of many relationships between different individuals and therefore, not allowing the society to function in its best way. Social capital benefits an individual as well as a society as a whole by building connections and interactions that help both the individual and the society to grow.

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  9. I found this piece of writing to be rather obvious. In the 90s the United States experienced a large leap in their economy. In the same time period, Putnam points out that less and less people are attending clubs meetings. I would like to be in a club right now, but I’m busy with class and work. But because I’m not in any student organization, I have more time to be successful in my classes. I’m not saying that this is the only reason why the US experienced a leap in their economy, but I think that there is a correlation between its success and the smaller club attendance. I was sometimes confused while reading “Bowling Alone.” At one point an entire paragraph was Putnam just listing statistics about what the American people thought about their generation. I gave up trying to understand what point he was trying to make and I’m sure my classmates did too. Overall, I think that this piece was a confirmation of previous thoughts that I had about social capital. I look forward to reading more and being able to connect different articles to each other.

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    • 5 points. The decline in civic participation that Putnam outlines really started in the 1970s–as he says, it’s been going on for decades. I’m not quite sure yet what you found confusion, but the most important things to take away from this chapter are not the statistics but the terminology and ideas regarding the definition of social capital. Keep focused on that as we move ahead with the other material.

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  10. I found Robert Putnam’s piece of writing, really eye opening. I never really thought about how peoples involvement in communities has decreased over the years. However, now that I think about it peoples views about getting involved have changed drastically. During the mid-twentieth century joining clubs and being a part of a community were things that were considered “cool” and if you weren’t part of the community then you were kind of ignored. However, now a day’s social media has taught us that not being part of the community is okay and maybe even be something good. It seems like every other movie and tv show coming out now a days is about a kid or a group of kids that don’t “fit” in but go on to do something great like save the world or something. This teaches us that it’s okay to not join the community and it might even be better to not get involved. To me clubs today are structured a lot better than 50 years ago were the people who want to join really want to be there and are genuinely interested in the club. While 50 years ago the people joining clubs were probably joining to not be left out and not because they genuinely were interested in the club.

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    • 5 points. It’s interesting that the decline of community participation that Putnam discusses started long before the Internet and social media. Interesting point, too, about movies about kids who don’t fit in but do good–of course, we also have the opposite in real life where a lot of the people who are committing major violent acts are often seen as much the same–“loners” who don’t fit in.

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  11. When I read this I could tell right away that this article should pose as a real eye opener for our country. Right away Putnam starts addressing a charity club that had to shut down in 1999 because literally no new people were joining it. This came as a surprise to me and started to make me think about what our society has started to make a trend towards. Not to say that everything is getting worse and that everyone is horrible, but I got the feeling that we just aren’t as involved as we used to be, and that Putnam was hoping that people would read a piece like this and realize that there is maybe more in the community that could be done or just the little things that could be done throughout the day. When we watched the video of Putnam in class he talked about how in his neighborhood that events like neighborhood BBQ’s and things like that were able to bring them together and form a bond of trust and protection throughout the neighborhood and I right away related that to this piece in just the fact that if we don’t become more socially responsible that examples such as that will start to diminish just like the charity groups in the early 2000’s that he described.

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  12. One thing I really noticed about “Bowling alone” By Putnam was the language that Putnam uses as he is obviously angry at the masses for not being more involved. When I looked at Putnam idea of community It is clear to see how the most important part was not necessarily organizations like Selznick’s was but more so an even smaller level of participation in those organizations. While Selznick looks at the community as a whole breaking it down into separate sections, Putnam focuses on the one section of organizations and how through them it strengthens a community. While reading his piece I could some what agree with him looking especially at Americans we are very individualistic, selfish, and independent people many people no longer want families let alone spend time with people in their communities we are a disconnected country everyone for themselves we look at others as merely competition or tools in out attempt to achieve our life goals. we do not all come together to support lift or help people just because and I think this is why the word community is so loosely used now because we have forgotten what it really is and lost touch with its true meaning

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    • 5 points. Certain kinds of social capital have probably increased since Putnam wrote his book and others have continued to decrease. It would be interesting to see how the numbers have changed in the past 15 years.

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  13. This was a very interesting article that Robert Putnam. I liked how he described what social capitalism was and how it affects a community. There are many people in this world that would think social capitalism would be a good way to run a country. And on the outside it does look like a good way. Communities back in the 60’s thrived. Humans need to be social creatures and clubs were one important way of that. That is not so much the case anymore now-a-days. Lifestyles are so hectic and fast moving that people want to get as much work done in a certain time period. And don’t want to relax as much as they did back then. Another reason why life is so fast in the 21st century is the introduction of social media. Instead of going to visit your friends face to face, you can just text or call them. It’s becoming so superficial that we are losing are ability to communicate with each other normally. Just earlier today I was in the elevator with a few other people and everyone immediately looked down at their cellphones. In the future things are going to get even worse. We need to start working on face to face interactions, then clubs will become more relevant.

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  14. After reading chapter 1 of, Bowling Alone, by Robert D. Putnam, I wasn’t as shocked when he was pinpointing the fact that the participation in communities has decreased over the years. Although, personally, I believe that part of participating in the community also has to do with what social income there is in the community. I feel very disconnected from Putnam because from my point of my view, I think he came from either a high class or middle-class, and there was probably more things to do in a community like that, than mine. This gets to me, because as a young girl I did not have the same resources I have today. I come from a community where schools barely got funds, and high schools were always on probation’s. There wasn’t much to do in schools either, the only sport that they had was basketball and maybe soccer. The closest thing I had was church, and the neighborhood council which only offered dance lessons, computer lessons, and tutoring services. But, as the years went by, somehow the level of participation in my community has increased. One of the motives was simply to keep kids of the street and away from any crime/violence. Then again, this is just where I come from, if maybe I was born in a different social class community, my level of participation in my community would of been different.

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    • 5 points. The issue of socioeconomic class is an interesting and important one when it comes to community participation. There are time, resource, and opportunity issues. Not all community participation requires monetary resources, though. Keeping an eye on each other’s homes or knowing where each other’s neighborhood kids are, for example, are kinds of social capital that are important to all neighborhoods.

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  15. What I found the most interesting aspect of what social capital is, is the distinction between Bridging and Bonding. We see bonding in many different groups in out society; churches, private country clubs, the Knights of Columbus, and even groups like the KKK. Bonding within groups allows us to surround ourselves with like minded people and reinforce our belief systems. This however is not always a good thing and could be argued that it can do more harm to society than good. If internet communities didn’t exist that reinforced hate, maybe Dylan Roof would not have shot nine people dead in a church in Charleston. Timothy McVeigh would not have had the help he needed to build the bomb that ended so many lives in Oklahoma City that fateful morning in April 1995. We might not have so many “christians” attacking people they disagree with in such a bullish manor. We might not have abortion clinic bombings or people carry AK-47s to Chili’s. Maybe we would not be so stubbornly divided.

    When we involve ourselves in bridging groups, we allow our selves to be exposed to others. Sports fans can come together to cheer on the team. Service groups come together to help our communities become healthier and better places for all. When we see that we have something common and can spend time with these people, we often find that there are even more things that can bring us together. We can begin to see others as fellow humans sharing this world instead of competition for material “wealth”. WE can then find out that if we allow our petty differences to fall to the wayside, we can work together to provide a better tomorrow for all instead of a select few. We can stop the systems that tell us when to jump, what to wear, what to think, what to eat. We can allow others to truly be free why allow ourselves to be free, within the boundaries of respecting others. Cause no harm, no foul. We can truly live as one human race.

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    • 5 points. As with most of the issues we’ll talk about this semester, balance is the key, as you suggest here. A strong community and society occur when there is a good balance between bonding and bridging social capital.

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  16. When I read this chapter the thought of myself not being involved in local organizations made me think as to why that happens. I realized that it wasn’t really the lack of communities in my area but rather with the idea of the world being connected via the internet that I could really find my niche areas and be with people who have like interests as me from all over the world. I think that the internet is the real cultural divide when it comes to local communities. My generation is so much more involved online and at least for me that seems to be a more enjoyable place. Don’t get me wrong, I love my community but there is only so much someone can do. I am part of the free-rider problem as are many others. So many other older people still do a lot for our communities and I benefit immensely from them. But what will happen to our communities when they’ve lost interest or have moved on? In my opinion that’s a problem that will need to be addressed sooner rather than later. Without learning how to care for our communities we can’t just get involved when they start to deteriorate right before our eyes. There is going to come a time when people will begin to once again look local rather than global. The internet has caused this shift but I think it can reverse the trend as well by getting people talking about their communities on forums and discussion pages.

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    • 5 points. It’s true that the Internet can be a tremendous tool for local connections as well as global. And it’s also true that communities cannot survive without direct, face-to-face interaction and participation.

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  17. Robert Putnam talks about technology and its effect on our lives. We have gone through such dramatic changes in our social lives that we don’t even know how to talk to one another face to face. When we don’t want to talk to somebody we bury our heads in our phone and act as if they weren’t there. I do agree that technology is a big problem today but I don’t think we can blame all our social problems on technology itself. Yes, we have been going through this evolution of technology, but that isn’t the problem here. The problem is, we have all this technology but we don’t have people teaching us when and when not to use it. Albert Einstein said it right, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” Its sad to say but its true. We have become so overwhelmed with apple that we have become babies to its candy. We will use our phones or tablets whenever we can. If this continues to happen, sooner or later, we won’t be talking to each other face to face at all. That’s why I like how Robert talked about the Catholic Community. Catholic or not you cannot disagree with what he has to say about the Catholic community. They teach their student how to be polite, how to interact with others even if they are different, how to give back because its the right thing to do. They instill core values that have been lost due to technology. We are going down the wrong track and I’m afraid we can’t stop it. Technology is always going to be there, its just we have to learn how to live with technology. Right now, technology has become our lives and its going to be that way until we find out how to use it to our social advantage rather the other way around.

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    • 5 points. Good points about technology. We do need to learn to incorporate it into our community lives much better. One point on Putnam’s discussion of the Catholic Church–I don’t think he’s talking so much about how the church teaches values as he’s talking about how the church offers multiple ways for church members to interact with each other in community.

      Important note: Remember that the deadline for a week’s blog posting is 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning. This was posted after 8:00 a.m. Since we’re all still getting used to the blog assignment, I’ll let it slide this time, but please remember to meet the deadline. Thanks.

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  18. There were many different things that I found interesting while reading “Thinking about Social Change in America”, which is the first chapter in Robert Putnam’s book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community”. The biggest thing that I found interesting, that I got out of this first chapter, is how it seems like in today’s society, that kids and teens no longer seem to try and/or join different groups and activities. I am going to look at this from a sports perspective because of my love for sports. My dad told me when he was growing up, everybody played every sport that was available to them. Since that’s the way he did it, he always encouraged my siblings and I to do the same. I personally played 5 different sports in high school, and loved every single one of them. Now, however, this society has people who just play only one sport because they want to “focus” on it more. I do not agree with this method, because from my experience of playing multiple sports throughout my life, I learned that playing one sport will help your abilities for another sport. Playing multiple sports helps you become a better athlete, and for that reason, I believe that people should get involved with other activities that is offered to them, because chances are they will be beneficial and maybe even fun.

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    • 5 points. Interesting observations. You focus on the personal athletic benefit of playing multiple sports here. Are there any social/community benefits? That’s what our focus really is here.

      Important note: Remember that the deadline for a week’s blog posting is 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning. This was posted after 8:00 a.m. Since we’re all still getting used to the blog assignment, I’ll let it slide this time, but please remember to meet the deadline. Thanks.

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  19. This essay by Putnam was very interesting to read. It was a great opportunity for me to realize how social change in America is formed, or transforming. Especially, a few paragarphs later after Putnam introduces the term “social capital,”, he stated that “Social captial can thus be simultaneously a “private good” and a “public good.” ” I strongly agreed with his argument that how being involved in community activities affect positively not only to a person but also to a community, or even a country. Putnam also talked about how a numerous communities are having their last meeting recently simply because they do not have any replacements for those who had been in charge of organizations who are now easily over their 60’s. Experiencing the decrease of involvement in organizations is reflecting the world’s transition.
    In my opinion, there are a few reasons why people do not involve in as many activities as they used to. First, people in modern societies are becoming hardhearted. At least a few of murder cases are broadcasted on news everyday. Second, people found out a better to bond or have a relationship such as smartphones and computers. These new technology played a great role of social change in America as well.
    I strongly agree with Putnam’s statement that “The ways in which we connect with friends and neighbors and strangers are varied.” Yes, we all have a different way to have a relationship but certainly not actual bonding by physical interactions. This is not only America’s problem but also all other countries. At least South Korea, where I am from, is also facing the same kind of problem. I often hear that people over their 70’s are suffering from homesickness of how people used to be very warmhearted back then. I think this is a serious problem and I really hope that sociologists and other scholars come up with a solution to this problem before people become more individualistic.

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    • 5 points. Technology plays a major role in current challenges to social capital and building community. In fact, it has for a long time–the widespread use of television starting 50-60 years ago has also been a major culprit.

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