Social Capital and Never Bowling Alone Again

Posted: November 14, 2011 by Grace Hughston in Gen Y, Social Media

How many hours do you spend with technology every day? Two hours?.. Eight hours?.. Think about your smartphone comfortably sitting in your jeans pocket or resting in the special pocket designated in your purse… Do “Twitter” and “Facebook” come up regularly in daily conversation? How often do you turn to your phone when you’re sitting at a traffic light, or waiting on the elevator?

Social capital refers to connections of social trust, norms, and networks that people can develop to get collective or economic results.

Without a doubt, technology has become ingrained into the daily lives of most individuals, but I can’t help but reflect on what it must have been like before this time…  The sociological book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D. Putnam highlights the emphasis humans place on social interactions with others. The novel received its name from the 1950’s and 60’s fad of bowling leagues within communities, and describes the reduction in all forms of in-person social interaction – taking from Americans one of the greatest methods of enriching the fabric of their social lives. Putnam fights to highlight the declining involvement in communal organizations, which is interesting because this novel was published in 2000 – right before the spike of social networking sites online. In the short years since this was published, not only have people found a communal satisfaction through online forms of social media, but the majority of the American culture has embraced the technology wave with open arms.  Brian Solis sums up the minority to this evolving trend when he states, “Skeptics will now be recognized as laggards as they now officially stand in the way of progress” in reference to the recently released Nielson Social Media Report.

Market researchers and technology developers have recognized this shift and emphasis on consumers’ need to fill their social cravings with social sites/digital media. This was accomplished by utilizing smartphone surveys and hand held activity tracking on cell phone devices. Older generations look on to the younger generations, such as Gen Y and Millennials, and tisk at the dependence they have on their connection to their cell phone or computer. However, it may be that they’re simply not realizing the underlying innate-need for a social community, which is being satisfied with their channels of technology… They can reach out to friends and family at an arm’s length, literally.

Market researchers learned, adapted and utilized creative ways to gain this access to consumers – using smartphone surveys, hand held activity tracking, etc… If we label this as an early example of using technology to create more accessible marketing research, what is the next step in applying technology of the future to consumer research?

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