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28 July 2006

Social Isolation A Growing Problem

By Jade Hill
JSU News Bureau

A recent study conducted at Duke University indicates that Americans, including college students, are more socially isolated than ever before. The study compares people from 20 years ago to people today and shows that people today have significantly fewer close friends and confidants.

Data was compared from a survey conducted in 1985 and again in 2004. This data indicates that the number of people with whom Americans feel they are close to and can confide in has shrunk by nearly one-third.

The number of people who indicate that they have no one to confide in has doubled to 25%. This trend is seen in both family and non-family connections, but is most prevalent with non-family members. Speculations as to why Americans have become more socially isolated are diverse.

A JSU sociology professor and students at JSU offer some ideas about this trend. Dr. Tina Deshotels, a sociology professor at JSU, says that many people are isolated because they work too much. In general, people work so much because of need, not because they are workaholics.

"Wages are not keeping up with inflation," said Deshotels. "People who work 40 hours a week and have families don't have much time for friends. Add to that the incredible amounts of extracurricula activities children are involved in, and there is just no time for friends."

"As far as college students, I think the study should have controlled for people who work. It could be that students are working and attending school and have less time for work," Dr. Deshotels explained.

Trace Cowen, a sophomore at JSU offers his opinion about social isolation: "I think people are more socially isolated because of the Internet. They have less reason to get out." Trace says he does not feel isolated personally. "There are some days when I don't want to get out because of the Internet, but I don't really feel socially isolated."

Dawn Frost, a junior at JSU, believes that modern technology helps to make people more isolated. "Maybe people are not happy in their real lives, so they surf the internet and watch TV where it seems like people live happier lives. People also watch the news and get scared to go outside with everything that is happening these days. Technology can be good and bad," she said.

"Telephones actually keep people more in touch." Dawn said that she is personally a Christian, but even at church people can isolate others. "One time there was a man smoking in the parking lot outside of church, and the church members seemed to outcast him. They isolated him by their standards."

According to Dr. Deshotels, social isolation is a real problem. People with a strong social support network fare better than people who have little or no social support.

Things can be done to change the prevalence of social isolation. Dr. Deshotels believes that this is an area for public policy.

"We need more flex-time, shorter work weeks and days, better wages and more time to have friends. "Life should not be just work, study and sleep so you can do it again the next day."

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