In Social Intelligence I noted longterm trends that signal a gradual corrosion of opportunities for people to connect – networks of friendships shrinking, families spending less time together, a decline in social gatherings. Though many of us sense this trend toward a loss of connection, the data tracking it has been piecemeal.
Now that’s about to change. The National Conference on Citizenship, a group dedicated to promoting civic ties, is going to track how engaged with each other people are, as part of what it calls a “Civic Health Index.” The Index will track 40 key civic indicators measuring levels of political activity, civic knowledge, volunteering, trust, and charitable giving – in part, a measure of our collective social intelligence. The group sees the index as a way to track signs of weakness in the civic fabric, to more systematically measure the trends announced in Robert Putnam’s eloquently titled book, Bowling Alone. Well and good. But I’d like to see some efforts made to reverse the trend, rather than simply document it.
One might be to rethink our arrangements for housing the chronically sick and the elderly: We accelerate their isolation by stashing them away from family, friends, and the richiness of life. Why not, for example, put day care centers in elder care facilities, so that the very young – who love the full attention of a caring adult – can have access to isolated elders who delight in the company of the very young?