The Lonely Commute

Last spring I taught a seminar on “Urban Altruism” that explored the material conditions of community–how aspects of urban planning, architecture, and other social arrangements either foster or detract from community-building (friendships, civic concern, neighbor-love, etc.). Two recent reports confirm much of what we discussed in the class:

1. This past summer the American Sociological Review published a landmark study on “Social Isolation in America” (pdf). Over a twenty year period, the study considers the change in the circle of close friends (“confidants”) that Americans have. Over the 20-year span these social networks decreased by 1/3. This might be at least partially be explained by a report unveiled this week…

2. The Transportation Research Board released the third edition of its report, Commuting in America. The report indicates that the lonely commute has gotten even lonlier: as more commuting traffics from suburb to suburb (rather than suburb to core city), the number of new solo drivers grew by almost 13 million from 1990 to 2000. The report also indicates that the number of workers with commutes over 60 minutes grew by 50 percent (!), and that more Americans are leaving for work between 5:00-6:30am.

Pretty hard to cultivate significant friendships when we’re spending so much time by ourselves in our cars. Instead, we have more and more people listening to the inanity of talk radio in America. Someone needs to do a study that consider the correlation between increased solo commuting, the explosion of talk radio, and the increased polarization of American “civic” discourse.