Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On Being Friends

The following research paper was written by my daughter, Anna. (No permission is given to use this material without written consent, but you may link to this blog. Copyright by Anna, April 2009.) She wrote it for her English class online. I will leave my commentary in the comments section at a later time - and leave you for now with your own conclusions for our present society.

One last aside, I mentioned to the girls that their essays might be "lifted" by other students if put online. Lauren remarked that anyone doing something like that was only hurting him/herself (aside from the fact that you can easily use software to discover plagarism). I'm glad my girls have such an attitude. But just in case, I've removed the bibliography. If you'd like to see it, let me know and I'll email it to you.

ISOLATED
by Anna

Friends are an important part of society. They cheer us up, entertain us, and provide support. Friends are people we know and trust, and though the amount of friendship necessary depends on the individual, they are essential to our happiness. Despite this, however, a recent study by the American Sociological Review shows that the number of close, dependable friendships Americans have is declining at an alarming rate.

The American Sociological Review, which defines a close friendship as “…confidants with whom Americans discuss important matters,” states that since 1985, the average number of close friends in a person’s social network has dropped by nearly a third. This means that the average American has only two close friends. One in four Americans, the study shows, has no confidants at all. If these rates continue, in forty years the average American won’t have any close friends. Friends are an important part of our culture and society, and their absence could lead to multiple undesirable effects.

There are many possible causes of the decline of friendship. Technology, mobility, and priorities are the most common causes that affect the greatest number of people.

Technology is one of the most suspected causes of the decline, because it enables isolation and many insubstantial, non-personal friendships. Technology can give the illusion of having friends, but unless one forms bonds with those people in real circumstances, the friendships aren’t going to be supportive. Some studies even show that use of the Internet can actually negatively impact the amount of time people spend visiting friends and family. However, people who already have strong friendships and use technology to communicate might not be affected the same way, as long as they meet their friends face-to-face on a regular basis. Tools such as the Internet and television can also be like a substitute for friends, and frequent users may start to mistake entertainment for interaction. The more time people spend watching television or surfing the web, the less they visit friends and have contact within their social environment.

Another viable cause is American mobility. According to the U. S. Census Bureau, the average American moves 11.7 times during their life. This type of lifestyle is obviously not conducive to developing close friendships. It teaches people to, out of necessity, become friends very quickly with people they meet. They then develop the type of relationships that they could very easily leave behind. Compared to European and Asian countries such as Italy, France, and Japan, whose citizens often live in the same place their whole lives, it is easy to see how mobility could affect the decline.

A third likely cause concerns priorities. With people working more hours, commuting further, and overall making their job their top priority, social activity becomes less important. One researcher named Yves Smith, in an online article, suggests that job security may have an impact on how casually friendships are treated. People who are afraid of losing their jobs are more likely to skip a dinner party and work overtime instead. Furthermore, the increased number of work hours lessens a person’s energy and makes it more likely that they will go home and watch television or surf the web rather than socialize. Work as a top priority also increases the likelihood that people will move out of state for a job and leave their friends behind.

Social isolation is proven to have deleterious effects on a person’s health, and, therefore, society as a whole. Some of the most commonly affected aspects are mental health, physical health, and economy.

Mentally, a lack of confidants can have an enormous effect. Some of the proven symptoms include stress, depression, anxiety, aggression, low self-esteem, and even memory impairment. Physically, people take less care of themselves when they have no close friends. The mental effects listed above also aid in creating physical symptoms. Society has a large influence on many activities in a person’s life, including diet, exercise, sleep, and routine doctor visits. Those with fewer confidants are therefore more prone to obesity, unhealthy sleeping habits, smoking, and drug and alcohol abuse.

The combination of these symptoms has a startling outcome. Every sense of community is decreasing. Mortality rates of those with fewer friends are skyrocketing. Economically, people with fewer friends are less likely to eat out, go to a movie, volunteer, practice a religion, or invest financially.

With effects so serious and undeniable, it is clear that the decline of friendship is an undesirable phenomenon. The solution is difficult, however, because it rests in the hands of the people. Those who make the effort to form close friendships and get involved with their community are more likely to live healthier, happier, and longer. One study by BetterTogether.org shows that even activities such as joining or volunteering on a local sports team or library, cutting back on television and Internet use, and keeping or reinitiating contact with old friends can greatly improve their lives and those of others.

Ultimately, friendships—especially close ones—are a very necessary factor to happiness. The decline of friendship is becoming an increasingly urgent issue, and even other nations have started noticing a raise in social isolation. If this problem continues to grow, it could lead to a disastrous collapse of society and culture, and a major uprising of mental and physical instability in people all over the world. Such an effect would in turn cause a myriad of other problems, including permanent isolation, economic and political instability, and other effects. Friends, it seems, are the key to a thriving society, and we can’t live without them. However, the outcome of this issue depends on those whom it concerns.

9 comments:

whitetr6 said...

This is a very good analysis of an interesting topic. I've noticed kids in the neighborhood, not just the girls by the way, walking together in groups, but each one on a cell phone, either talking or texting. So they may be physically together in a group, yet paying no attention to each other. Anna's writing is thoughtful. Well done essay.

Kristina said...

That was a great essay, on an important topic. Being one of those families that moves often, I noticed the difference between what I call "aquaintances" and "friends" several years ago. Many people today have a lot of "aquaintances" they call friends, and few, if any, true friends.

Camflock said...

Did anyone else have to look up deleterious? I love that this bright young talented homeschool writer have is using words that I have to look up!

I loved the topic. It is one close to my heart. Thank you for sharing this essay.

We have been blessed with a wonderful relationship with your family as neighbors, fellow home schoolers and friends.

whitetr6 said...

I did Camflock. Great word, one I don't remember reading or hearing before. Bet these kids either have or would do extremely well in a spelling bee!

Janie at Sounding Forth said...

What an awesome essay! You should be very proud of this young lady. And I agree with the essence of it.

Robin said...

Wow. This just smacked me. I got on "facebook" JUST to keep up with my 15 year old stepson, becuase he can't pick up the phone and carry on an "actual" conversation...

Look at my most recent post and realize, I've hid behind technology as well! (still am!)

Having said that, I've had my same best friend since second grade and she is my "essential" person in so many ways...without her friendship I don't know how many destructive choices I would have made...she knows me as no other person does really...and had the ability to be completely honest even when I didn't like it and talked me around...so yeah, friendship is important to a healthy society.

Essay is amazing...you must be so proud! It's just...wow. Good job Mom! Spend years teaching them how to talk and then they're suddenly using words we have to look up! (I did know that one by the way! I love words!)

shoelace said...

Thank you for the thought provoking essay. I would like permission to read excerpts from your paper at our Mother Daughter Banquet tomorrow evening. I am speaking on friendship from the book of Ruth. (Ruth means "friend") Thanks again for such a clear and well written synopsis of our current culture. You give clear reasons for the problem as well as simple solutions!

Junosmom said...

Thank you all for your comments. Anna worked hard on the essay, but the topic was one that we discussed for some time. What is a friend?

Shoelace: sure, you can use excerpts in your presentation. Please give credit to Anna Alger, age 16.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Anna,

Very well done.

Very, very well done.

Tschuess,
Chris

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