Based on the recommendation of a commenter to Ask Little Falls, I am currently reading “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” by Robert D. Putnam. I have read the first 7 chapters, which discuss the trends in social participation of Americans in politics, community, religion, work, and in informal settings over time.
You know what? It doesn’t look good. Pretty much every chart shows a steep downward trend in social participation after a peak of participation in the 1950s and 1960s. That means fewer of us are taking part in group activities of any kind. This appears to be a generational change, with the generation prior to the Boomers (sometimes referred to as The Silent Generation or The Greatest Generation) being the most active in community, even into retirement. The Boomers and Gen Xers have lagged in joining social activities, with the Millennials just edging into the data. The book was published in 2000 so I’d be curious to see if these downward trends are continuing.
Chapter 6 of the book discusses informal social connections, which can include entertaining at home, going out to a restaurant with friends, taking in a museum or movie, or even nodding to people as you’re out walking the dog. The author uses two Yiddish terms, introduced in this chapter, for different levels of community participation. Machers are “people who make things happen in the community.” (pg. 93) Machers are the community organizers. They’re the ones you see constantly showing up when there is community planning to be done. Schmoozers are those who engage in informal conversation and activities. (pg. 93) Think of the neighbor who knows everything that is going on within a a three-block radius.
Both types of social participation are important for a healthy community. Unfortunately, there’s another type in the social interaction mix … the anti-social person who doesn’t do much of either and keeps to himself. (Sorry, Putnam didn’t provide a Yiddish word for this type of person. Let’s just use the term hermit.)
This trend toward a lack of social participation is not limited to Little Falls. It is obviously a nationwide issue. If a healthy community depends on greater social engagement, how does Little Falls buck this trend? I must continue reading to see what Putnam suggests.
In the meantime, which category would you put yourself in as far as social participation? Are you a macher, a schmoozer, or hermit? What do you feel are the benefits and drawbacks of each?
(Nathan Richardson (shown in the picture) was the Father of Morrison County. He was both a macher and a schmoozer. Not only did he hold more offices than any other elected official in the history of Morrison County (classic macher), he seemed to know everybody’s business (total schmoozer).)