Blurb: Australia is more socially isolated than ever. One of the key reasons is solo commuting. Julia Gillard encouraged Australians to take little steps to foster community connections. One of those steps is to rideshare instead of driving in by yourself.
Australia is losing its social capital
Federal MP for Fraser, Andrew Leigh, recently published a confronting book “Disconnected”. Building on Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone“, Leigh did a whole bunch of research into the number of people who do community minded activities like going to church, volunteering, joining a club or political party and being part of a sporting team. Leigh’s results show that just like the USA, Australia is losing its social capital.
Social bankruptcy is not good
You might be thinking “So what. Why do I need to be part of the community anyway? I’ve got my Xbox and my big screen TV. I spend lots of time with my family. Why should I bother reaching out to the rest of the community?”
Here are three key reasons:
1. Social isolation causes depression and premature death:
Schoevers and colleagues looked at depression and death rates in 4004 people over 65 years old. They found that the more socially isolated the people were, the sooner they died and the worse they felt along the way.
2. Low social capital leads to more drive by shootings
Research in the US found that communities with low social capital had more drive by shootings and other violent criminal acts. Gun ownership is part of it, but social isolation stands out as a significant factor on its own.
3. Social isolation costs us money
The Queensland department of housing wanted to find out how to foster economic growth in rural communities. They discovered that there was a direct link between social connectedness and economic growth. Disconnected communities had weak economies.
What causes social bankruptcy?
Andrew Leigh points at these contributing factors:
- Cheaper big screen TVs: why go out to the cinema when you can have the cinema experience at home?
- Eating lunch at the keyboard: there are more people working longer hours and that gives them less time to connect with colleagues and their communities:
- Feminists: women are now empowered to go to work instead of volunteering at the tuck shop
- Turbans: Australia is now home to hundreds of different cultures. As much as politicians celebrate diversity, many people are still put off by people who dress and eat differently. As such, mixed communities are typically less connected than boring 100% Anglo Saxon tribes.
- Self-scan counters at supermarkets: we don’t have to talk to each other anymore. Why waste time asking for directions when our GPS can tell us how to get there?
- Solo commuting: we’ve got loads of cash and cars are cheaper than ever. Why let someone invade your privacy when it doesn’t cost much to drive by yourself?
Julia Gillard wants you to rideshare
Prime Minister Julia Gillard loves Andrew Leigh’s work. She gave a speech at Parliament House praising the research and imploring Australians to lift their game and build more connected communities. She asks every Australian to do “the small things
than can help rebuild social capital step by step, day by day”. One of those ‘small things’ is rideshare instead of commuting alone. A shared ride in to work is a great opportunity to meet someone new, and maybe even break down cultural barriers.
Will you take up Gillard’s challenge and share a ride instead of driving alone?