Opinion: A campus of solitude

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber is a junior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

Sometimes, when walking through Risman Plaza or down the Esplanade, I am taken aback by how quiet it is on campus. There are days when I hear nothing but silence while walking to class, save for people handing out fliers and the occasional cigarette bum. The hordes of people walking to and from class usually have ear buds in or are on their phones. There is no direct connection between the people I pass by and myself.

In Robert Putnam’s book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” he uses data collected over the last 25 years to show how Americans have become increasingly disconnected from their friends, families and communities. Putnam explains this by using a term known as social capital.

There are two types of social capital: bonding capital and bridging capital. Bonding capital is what we create when we spend time with people similar to us, whereas bridging capital is what we create with people who may have different ethnicities, religions or values from our own. Putnam believes that these two forms of social capital are directly correlated; therefore, if one begins to falter, the other will as well.

According to the book’s website, “Putnam draws on evidence including nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often … he shows how changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, women’s roles and other factors have contributed to this decline.”

Over the last 25 years, the data has shown a 58 percent drop in attending club meetings, a 43 percent drop in family dinners, and a 35 percent drop in having friends over. Does your home have a large front porch to welcome people, or a fenced-in back yard that seems to say “Keep out”?

We need to ask ourselves what is responsible for this outcome. Is it technology and the role social media has taken in our lives? Some argue it has connected us more than ever, but we must understand that “liking” something is not the same thing as forming a tangible relationship with a stranger.

As we become willing to sacrifice our bonding capital for silence, we risk the deterioration of creating bridging capital between ourselves and those different from us — creating tension between people with different backgrounds and beliefs.

The atmosphere on campus is not one of solidarity between the student body. It is an environment where to speak openly to those you do not know is taboo. This attitude is damaging to the college community as well as society as a whole, and we cannot experience the potential of one another if we are not in a position to acknowledge one another’s existence.

To end this trend, we as students must unplug, tune in and learn about one another. It can be as simple as giving a smile or saying hello to a stranger you pass on campus, or as intimate as joining social organizations and attending pluralistic events. All that matters is that we connect — face to face.