A meditation on the evaporation of American exceptionalism.
The nation’s perception of community is undergoing major reconstruction, writes journalist and Clinton Foundation senior fellow Dunkelman in this shrewd examination, which declares that America is “simply in the midst of a painful transition, and it’s not clear how things will turn out.” Through statistical data, academic articles and published references scrutinizing the evolution of America’s societal framework, the author sheds light on the interpersonal erosion occurring in American neighborhoods and the gradual fade-out of what French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville christened our collaboratively minded “townships.” Dunkelman casts wide comparisons between past and present levels of civic interactivity and patiently explores its evolving effect on how we communicate, with whom and how often. Utilizing a metaphor of Saturn’s rings, the author equates one’s “inner ring” as those they hold closest, with the “middle” and “outer” rings representative of less familiar and casual acquaintances. The author documents a dramatic cultural shift whereby more attention is paid to the “outer” and “inner ring” populations, with little to no advancements made in cultivating “middle ring” relationships. He blames the quick-hit interactions afforded by the digital revolution along with social networking and reprioritized social opportunities and motivations. Good or bad, Dunkelman resists taking sides and instead examines how affirmation has evolved into our target desire as individuals are reorganizing themselves into more homogenized and like-minded groups (e.g., Facebook friends), thus creating a dividing line that is increasingly polarizing. Particularly effective in enhancing his theories are numerous references to Robert Putnam’s brilliantly researched 1995 essay and subsequent book Bowling Alone (2000), which dissects American culture’s steady decline of social capital and makes an ideal companion volume.
A thought-provoking, evenhanded yet inconclusive analysis on the nature and the future of community.