It takes a village to raise—well, just about everybody. And it’s even better when everyone can see who’s being raised.
Developmental psychologist Pinker’s (The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap, 2008) overall argument is unobjectionable: People need people, and there are manifold benefits to face-to-face contact over virtual contact. Neither is the argument really original; ever since The Lonely Crowd and even before, we’ve been chided to go outside and play, while books such as Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone (2000) and, more recently, John Cacioppo and William Patrick’s Loneliness (2008) warn us that a nation of automata cannot long endure. Pinker pursues fruitful paths, to be sure: She examines why social people live longer, on the whole, than loners, why playing cards around a table is better than playing cards online, and why it is that “social isolation kills” and being alone works contrary to “the complex genetic code we’ve developed as a social species.” There are, she allows, different styles of being social and of being lonely, but the thrust of the book squares with all that’s intuitive: It’s good to play (birds and bees both do it), it’s good to play with others of our kind, and it’s better to play than to watch TV, which makes us “less happy and competent than [our] peers.” Indeed, the chief flaw of Pinker’s book is its lack of surprises in making its I-told-you-so conclusions; there’s plenty of repetition and just a tad too much thesis-pounding, with suitably alarming implications: “If you want to live a long, happy life, worrying and working hard won’t kill you. But doing it alone just might.”
Certainly not groundbreaking, but it’s mostly entertaining and instructive to read about such things as menstrual synchrony and human-stampede–induced bridge wobbling.