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Jane Blanchard

March 23
rd
2014
Forum II
Bowling Alone: Putnams Argument
Civic engagement in Canada is not on the decline. In many ways one could
look at engagement by modern standards as superior to that of our forefathers.
Putnam is right in saying that all people are forever forming associations. It is part
of our nature as humans to join together and to strive towards betterment. The
norms and networks of civic engagement influence social institutions. Successful
outcomes in a society are more likely in civically engaged communities. This makes
sense. People are stronger united than as individuals. However what is in debate is
how those people come together as one voice. In the past, social capital was
associated with organizations such as the PTA, or through unions and clubs. This is
not the case in modern society.
Today one sees civic engagement through outlets such as social media and
online petition websites. Just because it is a different form of civic engagement does
not mean that it is inferior. One could even argue the superiority of digitalized,
instant communication and to how it benefits civic engagement. Take the civil war
in Syria as an example. Citizens used and are still using social media as a main form
of communication and as a way to connect people from all over the world. This type
of instant and widespread communication would have been very difficult in the past
decades. Websites such as Change.org are making it possible for people globally to
sign petitions for issues surrounding not only their local community, but the global
community as well. In cases such as these it is not a necessity to physically go to a
meeting or see the outcome of the situation. Although one may not be able to change
the world from a computer screen, there are certainly many ways to contribute to
the social capital of the world.
Putnam argues that there is no longer the excitement of engaging in
citizenship. In modern society people seem to have become immune to global
affairs. I do not believe this is necessarily a bad thing. We have become so connected
and so educated to a point where it may take more to engage us in excitement. But
we also have more things to potentially be moved and excited by. Perhaps it is not
re-painting the local bowling alley that moves us to change, but upheaving failing
political institutions and fighting for real democracy in a failing world. It is not that
we are less excited; it is just that different issues excite us.
Mass membership organizations are currently plentiful and full of political
importance. People sign up for emails and newsletters as a way to prove to them
that they do care about an issue. Although perhaps some of these initiatives are
done in vain, I do not see how the deliverance of information (be it through a
community newsletter mailed in past generations or one that has been emailed in
modern society) could be a bad thing? Some people wont read the information, and
some will. It doesnt matter what kind of format its received in, but rather the
people whom are reading it. These ties to mass organizations can be seen as an
excuse for joining something or being a part of the change, but what do you call
religion? One could argue that by going to church in vain one is just there to be a
part of something. I fail to see the difference.

Yes, citizens have a lack of trust in government (which perhaps they rightly
should), voting has declined, and U.S mega-churches seem to be taking over North
America. But so what? We are also vastly more educated and more informed about
the world affairs, more socially independent and live in a constantly changing and
diverse society.