Does Technology Reduce Our Social Capital?

by

Are technology and social media reducing our social capital? Is our way of life in peril as our youth and culture become subservient specters to the soul-destroying harbinger of the social and biological apocalypse: the smartphone? Short answer: no.

First, what is Social Capital? As defined by José Cuesta, Senior Economist at The World Bank, and an Affiliated Professor at the Graduate Institute of Professional Psychology, “…social capital consists of those bonds created by belonging to a group that instills trust, solidarity, and cooperation among members.”

So, why am I so confident that technology is not destroying our social capital? I mean, we have all repeatedly heard the sentiments and read the articles that smartphones are completely disrupting our social interactions/abilities and leading to a general degradation of our capacity to pursue a meaningful or purposeful existence, right? And this is a new technology that is affecting an unusually incapable and lazy generation of people who don’t know how good they have it and is therefore a unique and previously unheard of problem, right? It’s never been like THIS before, RIGHT?!?!

Well, as with most topics, if you look hard enough, you can find smart people, studies, and research to back up whichever side of the argument you prefer – the case as to whether or not technology reduces our social capital is no different. And the idea of new technology destroying our minds and degrading our social threads is old news, just take a look at what 20th Century sociologist Charles Cooley had to say about the newspaper:

“Probably there is nothing in this new mechanism quite so pervasive and characteristic as the daily newspaper, which is as vehemently praised as it is abused, and in both cases with good reason. What a strange practice it is, when you think of it, that a man should sit down to his breakfast table and, instead of conversing with his wife, and children, hold before his face a sort of screen on which is inscribed a world-wide gossip!”

As far as people believing that shifts in culture are the downfall of our society, and that the newest generation of humans beings are the worst generation of imbeciles to ever exist, these are not new concepts either; Every generation looks at the generations that succeed them and think, “When I was a kid we didn’t have Y. And we did things X way. And life was simpler (i.e. better) then.” It’s a repeating tale we tell. Nothing new. And undoubtedly, someday, I too (if I’m lucky) will live long enough to hear myself say that the new “Neuro-Chips” or “Anti-Gravity Pants” are changing the way we interact as a society, and for the worse, and that these technologies are too different and are going to ruin life as we know it (probably not, but certainly some in my generation will).

So, I decided that instead of boring you with the details of studies and quotes I found supporting my view point (though I did link to them), I would instead bore you with anecdotal evidence and stories that support my view point because I think it’s fitting for the topic of social capital to include social examples. Socialization isn’t about numbers, it’s about interactions, experiences, and connections. Take one microcosm of the online community, the Buy Nothing Project, which has helped initiate “a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies” through volunteer run Facebook groups. Their mission? “We offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors.”

In just looking through my local Buy Nothing group on Facebook, you can see that the power of community and connectedness are enhanced through the use of technology and social media. This is anything but reducing social capital. And this is just one small drop, in one small bucket, among millions of buckets around the world. In my local Buy Nothing group I found:

People making food and making friends:

 

People helping each other:

People welcoming new people into their community:

So, the next time someone tells you that technology and social media are destroying our social capital, just remind them that we survived the newspaper, radio, and television, and we too shall survive this.

READ MORE

The Leadership Dog Years

The Leadership Dog Years

As a business leader, I feel like I’ve been living in dog years — so much has happened that this year feels more like seven. In the spring, our company — like many others — had to throw out our annual plans and quickly pivot to new ones. In the summer, we increased...

read more
Shifting Perspectives: 3 Learnings From a 3-Day Training

Shifting Perspectives: 3 Learnings From a 3-Day Training

About a week ago, I completed the second live (virtual) training in the process of becoming a Certified Professional Coach through iPEC. Once again, my mind was blown! It reinforced for me that virtual workshops can, and do, work, and, in a lot of ways, I prefer them...

read more
Finding My Work-Life Balance

Finding My Work-Life Balance

In my previous post, I told the story of how I got back into consulting after becoming a mom. All of the diverse experiences I had during that journey have helped me to find my work-life balance by… Defining Boundaries “Go home,” my first boss said 12 years back —...

read more
How I Got Back to Work After Being a Full-Time Mom

How I Got Back to Work After Being a Full-Time Mom

I Landed My Dream Job Throwback to 2014, I had completed my MBA, landed my dream job as a consultant, and was hoping that my new consulting career would exponentially ramp up my career growth for the next 5 years. This would position me to take on critical decision...

read more
Self-Awareness is Key to Belonging

Self-Awareness is Key to Belonging

In August of this year, as part of our annual company meeting, our team at Thought Ensemble participated in the foundational session of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training led by Dr. Nika White, IOM, CDE (she/her/hers). One of the most meaningful moments...

read more
Finding Your Organization’s Magic Pixie Dust

Finding Your Organization’s Magic Pixie Dust

It is often said that organizational culture is like a fog — it is all around us; it impacts our ability to see, to move quickly, and to deliver; but we cannot quite put our finger on it. Indeed, some organizations see their culture as a byproduct of operations,...

read more
We’ve Refreshed Our Brand!

We’ve Refreshed Our Brand!

Why have we refreshed our brand, you ask? Well, as we have grown and matured as an organization, we felt that our previous brand elements no longer represented us as well as they could. You see, we founded Thought Ensemble back in 2008 to help companies better compete...

read more
Thought Ensemble’s Purpose — Inspired in 2020

Thought Ensemble’s Purpose — Inspired in 2020

I recently wrote about how company purpose is being tested and inspired by all the events of 2020. This topic is very real for us at Thought Ensemble. We’ve been thinking a lot about what really matters as we’ve navigated the challenges of this year. While we’ve had...

read more