If we try to form a Common Ground—as United America argues is possible—what will it look like? Will our “common ground” look like the well-organized, long-established, bricks-and-mortar, civic institutions that Americans have relied upon for many years? Or will our “common ground” look more like a circle of young men and women digitally tapping their way to a coffee shop?
The old prescription for connection was to join well-established institutions—a church, club, labor union, civic group, political party, and so on. These forms of connection have been in decline for some time, as political scientist Robert Putnam lamented in his classic work, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. The social capital that is vital for democracy, he says, is fraying.
Disintegrating would be a better way to put it, looking at a just-released report from the Pew Research Center on Millennials, Americans 18 to 33 years of age. Young adults in America are more detached from institutions than any other age group. Three of ten Millennials (29%) are religiously unaffiliated—the highest percentage of any age group. Fifty percent are not affiliated with a political party—also the highest percentage of any age group.
Millennials may be detached from traditional institutions, but they are not disconnected. Millennials have “taken the lead in seizing on the new platforms of the digital era—the internet, mobile technology, social media—to construct personalized networks of friends, colleagues and affinity groups.” Sociologists Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman provide insights into this technological phenomenon in their book, Networked: The New Social Operating System.
The new forms of connectedness may be replacing the old forms. This was always the criticism of Putnam’s thesis. We may be bowling alone (or not at all), but finding new common ground through the use of technology.
Are you worried by the Millennials who are religiously and politically unaffiliated?
What role does technology play in your social and professional life?
Join us tomorrow when we look at the “Selfie”—the self-portraits that Millennials are quite fond of. I’ll also tell you the date of the first known selfie. You may be surprised!