Reflections on a Global Community

For most of human history, the average person rarely knew, let alone cared, about what happened beyond his or her little community of mostly interrelated people. Now, something can happen halfway across the world, to strangers of a completely foreign culture and society, and we feel emotionally and politically invested. We mourn, express solidarity, debate, and otherwise get involved in matters that by all accounts should not concern us.

It is easy to take for granted that we live in a global community, in which our social, economic, and even personal lives are impacted by the fate of total strangers thousands of miles away. But this is actually a radically new development in our species’s history, after millennia of living in small tribes, bands, and city-states. (Indeed, civilizations only emerged three to four thousand years ago, whereas modern humans have existed for at least a quarter of a million years.)

Doubtless, we are far from forming a truly cohesive and universal identity — too many things still separates us and undermine our ability to empathize, including our biology (e.g., our minds evolved to prioritize genetic kin — those who look and seem more similar — and can develop only a limited number of deep social connections).

But given the novelty of this globalized world, I am confident that with time, such limitations can be transcended. Just as the city or country — now totally common and accepted social units — was once an alien concept for thousands of years, so too can something as crazy as a global community, in the psychological if not political sense, be a reality.

Young People Aren’t Partying Like They Used To

Like many people in my early college years, I enjoyed the quintessential house party experience. But as I approach my early thirties, I find my interest in these big social events waning. Indeed, I am not alone in this: an ever fewer number of my peers are bothering to host parties, opting for limited and low-key social gatherings and hang outs. The few parties I manage to show up to typically end up with a shortfall in attendance, and those who do arrive come late, leave early, or both.

Now there is nothing wrong with this trend, especially insofar as it involves folks like myself who are getting older and therefore busier and more tired. But it is interesting to consider what other forces may be at work here, as the New York Times does with its piece on “The Death of the Party”.

First, the statistics:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of hours per day 15- to 24-year-olds spent attending or hosting social events on weekends or holidays — the times they are most likely to go to parties — declined sharply from 2003 to 2014 to nine minutes from 15. (That may not seem like much, but consider that this is the average of all those who fit the demographic.) The percentage who participated in these activities dropped to 4.1 from 7.1 over the same span.

Their tame night lives began in high school. According to a nationwide annual survey by the University of California, Los Angeles, the time high school seniors devoted to partying has slid dramatically over the decades. Except for a few years, the number of homebodies who never attended parties as high school seniors has steadily increased, to 41.3 percent in 2014 from 11.6 percent in 1987, and it’s accelerated in the new millennium, more than doubling since 2001. Over a third of Gen X high schoolers fought for their right to party at the tail end of the Reagan administration, spending more than six hours per week at gatherings; just 10.7 percent of the most recent Obama-era high school seniors did.

So my observation is not merely anecdotal: young people are in fact partying less than previous generations. But this is happening even among people half my age, e.g. in their prime for social gatherings and extroversion. What accounts for this? Naturally, the initial culprits involve technology — namely the Internet, social media, and smartphones — which together have influenced the way we interact and socialize. Continue reading