Despite being disconnected, Americans are still clamoring for community.
In 2000, Robert D. Putnam, a public policy professor at Harvard, famously introduced the term “bowling alone” in a book arguing that Americans are becoming disconnected from family and community networks. Increasingly isolated, they lack “social capital,” or vital support structures and enriching ties. In the years since, of course, online communities have formed, but many believe these are poor substitutes—and may even exacerbate the issue (various studies have linked Facebook use with depression). At the same time, religious affiliation has continued to decline, and with it a key source of community: The percentage of Americans with no affiliation has reached 20 percent (vs. 8 percent in 1990), per recent research.
So where do we find community now? The Sunday Assembly—“a godless congregation that meets to hear great talks, sing songs and generally celebrate the wonder of life”—launched in January in the U.K. and “accidentally became a movement,” as its website puts it. There is now an assembly in New York (and outposts in Canada and Australia), and later this month the Assembly is launching an Indiegogo campaign to crowd-fund an international roadshow. The Godless Congregation is also the title of an upcoming Simon and Schuster book co-written by Harvard’s “humanist chaplain”; the driving idea is that “the congregation is a valuable form of social organization and that, despite its historic links to a deity, it can and will thrive without one.”
Meanwhile, some gyms are looking to fill the community void. The small women-only gym Uplift in New York, for instance, is “committed to the empowerment, support and camaraderie of and among our clients.” And members-only clubs are “thriving all over the world,” according to The Economist. Watch for more businesses to find ways to bring likeminded customers together in a bid to create real-life communities that mimic the organized groups of old.
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