At first I didn’t notice what was different in the campus organizations I was involved in. Like many small, creeping changes in campus climate, it began slowly: a three-week dip in the number of people who came to meetings, then a general lack of responses when questions were asked. My favorite organizations varied widely in both purpose and membership. And yet, by the end of the year, there was no doubt that they were all suffering from the same problem: a steady decline in the number of people involved.
This phenomenon is not confined to my clubs, or even to Concordia. For over a decade, nation-wide, participation in civic organizations, political campaigns, churches, neighborhood interaction and even family time has declined. In his book, “Bowling Alone,” Robert Putnam explored this phenomenon and came to the conclusion that “The bonds of our communities have withered, and we are right to fear that this transformation has very real costs.”
One of the most common explanations for the migration away from traditional social organizations lies in new, virtual organizations. Facebook, Twitter, and other “social” media, some claim, distract from or replace old-fashioned, in-person relationships. I fear that this is perhaps too simple—people, if in smaller numbers, are still involved in many things. In fact, just this year The Concordian has published stories that discuss increased strain on the Counseling Center caused by overi-involvement and the success of vibrant student initiatives as Cobbers prove that they are, without doubt, involved on some level.
Could it be that typical Cobber over-commitment is actually resulting in less engagement? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just a sign that, societal trend or not, we’re just tired. We give ourselves excuses: maintaining our ties and responsibilities to so many organizations is simply exhausting–and besides, there’s homework, practice and work. We tell ourselves that as long as we still know what our friends are up to via tweets, maybe meeting attendance isn’t so important.
There is hope. Following the publication of “Bowling Alone,” Putnam continued to study the phenomenon of social interactions between people and concluded that, just maybe, Americans were actually simply re-defining social relationships. Digital relationships are no doubt one way this happens—Facebook, it seems, does not completely isolate us and erode our interactions. In fact, it probably does the opposite in many cases. But digital relationships, for any merit and strength they carry, cannot ultimately accomplish as much as true action and interaction.
Maintaining strong organizations on campus remains vital to the success of any education at Concordia. The importance of social networking and digital interaction shouldn’t be ignored or avoided, for they have many boons. But it takes actual involvement—actual participation—to meaningfully accomplish much that is worth accomplishing. So get off the computer, get our of your comfort zone and show up for a meeting or two. You may even forge a few real-life relationships along the way.
Mary Beenken, Editor-in-Chief
I am a senior English writing major and political science minor at Concordia College, but I originally hail from Fort Collins, Colorado. I have a deep passion for humanitarian aid and the power of the written word. I am currently the Editor-in-Chief of the 2011-2012 Concordian, though on occasion I also write and take pictures.
Dream job: hybrid freelance journalist/human rights lawyer.