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The Big Answer


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The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter

a book by Susan Pinker

(our site's book review)

Let's Form a Village of People around Ourselves

"Drawing on scores of psychological and sociological studies, Pinker suggests that living as our ancestors did, steeped in face-to-face contact and physical proximity, is the key to health, while loneliness is less an exalted existential state than a public health risk. Smart readers will take the book out to a park to enjoy in the company of others."—The Boston Globe

Pinker recommends combining our close relationships to form a personal 'village' around us
Pinker recommends combining our close relationships to form a personal 'village' around us


Pinker suggests that living as our ancestors did, steeped in face-to-face contact and physical proximity, is the key to health
Pinker suggests that living as our ancestors did, steeped in face-to-face contact and physical proximity, is the key to health

It Takes a Village

In this surprising, entertaining and persuasive new book, psychologist Susan Pinker shows how face-to-face contact is crucial for learning, happiness, resilience and longevity. From birth to death, human beings are hard-wired to connect to other human beings. Face-to-face contact matters: tight bonds of friendship and love heal us, help children learn, extend our lives and make us happy. Looser in-person bonds matter, too, combining with our close relationships to form a personal “village” around us, one that exerts unique effects. See It Takes a Village.

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

Not just any social networks will do: we need the real, in-the-flesh encounters that tie human families, groups of friends and communities together. Marrying the findings of the new field of social neuroscience with gripping human stories, Susan Pinker explores the impact of face-to-face contact from cradle to grave, from city to Sardinian mountain village, from classroom to workplace, from love to marriage to divorce. Her results are enlightening and enlivening, and they challenge many of our assumptions. Most of us have left the literal village behind, and don’t want to give up our new technologies to go back there. But, as Pinker writes so compellingly, we need close social bonds and uninterrupted face-time with our friends and families in order to thrive—even to survive. Facebook just will not do.


Face to Face Beats Virtual and Digital Hands Down

Facebook made him lonely
Facebook made him lonely

The benefits of the digital age have been oversold. Electronic communication can never replace our deeply rooted, fundamentally human need for face-to-face interactions. Direct and frequent human contact are at least as important to our survival as clean air or good nutrition. See Why Do We Need Communities?, Physical Dysfunction, The Healing Web: Social Networks and Human Survival, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier and The Challenge of Making Friends as an Adult.

This mouse potato needs less cheese and more exercise and more f2f contact
This mouse potato needs less cheese and more exercise and more f2f contact


Online chatting has been linked to symptoms of loneliness, confusion, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and addiction
Online chatting has been linked to symptoms of loneliness, confusion, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and addiction

Rats Need to Reach Out and Touch Someone

The author relates that socially isolated female lab rats developed eighty-­four times as many breast cancer tumors as female rats who lived in groups. The point is that f2f contacts and networks are a vital aspect of conditions that foster good health in mammals. Pinker says: “Neglecting to keep in close contact with people who are important to you is at least as dangerous to your health as a pack-a-day cigarette habit, hypertension, or obesity.” The trouble with The Village Effect is that it's really a long magazine article padded out to book length, since its message is simple and singular but keeps getting repeated throughout the book.

To foster good health, this rat has made the effort to socialize
To foster good health, this rat has made the effort to socialize


Shouldn't virtual community be substituted in place of irl f2f only when the real deal is impossible or highly impractical, such as bedridden elderly, sick, or disabled, or between spouses, friends, or business associates who are far apart?
Shouldn't virtual community be substituted in place of irl f2f only when the real deal is impossible or highly impractical, such as bedridden elderly, sick, or disabled, or between spouses, friends, or business associates who are far apart?

Having a web of friends and acquaintances makes both job-hunting and surviving the death of a spouse more tolerable. In our era of incessant visual entertainment and digital communication, computer and TV screens just don’t do the trick. They can’t compare with the emotional connections and bonds in f2f irl life.

"Job applicants who subconsciously mirror their interviewer’s gestures are often offered higher starting salaries. Athletic teams who are encouraged to pat each other’s backs and give high-fives and fist-bumps tend to score more goals. We are a social species that has evolved for close contact; when we’re in close proximity to others, hormones and neurotransmitters are released that help us solve problems, damp down stress, feel safe, and stave off loneliness. . . . having an integrated social life is the best predictor of health and longevity." (Source: The Village Effect—An Interview With Susan Pinker, by Stephen Assink)

"Studies show that as our Internet use goes up, our levels of happiness have gone down, and that online contact on its own does not relieve loneliness. Research on loneliness shows that 20 to 40 percent of older adults report feeling lonely. In the U.S., between 12% and 23% of adults report they have nobody to talk to, up from 8% in 1985, and a third of middle-aged say they have no one to confide in. Over the past two decades, Americans report fewer confidants and people they can lean on when they‘re in trouble. Scientific studies of loneliness find that it drives up cortisol and blood pressure levels that damage internal organs across sexes and at all ages and stages of adulthood. In the last 40 years, there has been a 300% increase in the number of people who live alone. Those with tight circles of friends who gather regularly are likely to live an average of 15 years longer than loners." (Source: Ben's interview with Susan Pinker, by Ben Dean)


This Book Would Have Been More Balanced If It Had Included Facts about the Importance of Alone Space

The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier Happier and Smarter is not a good book to read if you’re feeling any guilt over declining social invitations for some alone time. This book would have been more balanced if it had included facts about the importance of me time, alone space, being alone to get into feelings, think, de-stress, do creative thinking, play music or do art, read books, and study.

Alone space
Alone space

Bowling Alone created a resounding splash in 1995 when Robert D. Putnam showed that community life outside government and business (the proliferation of voluntary organizations that observers since Tocqueville have noted as a special feature of American culture) had severely eroded. In short, communities were dying, and now they were mere aggregations hardly worthy of the name community. See Building a Community of Citizens: Civil Society in the 21st Century, The Responsive Communitarian Platform, and Microcommunities (MCs).

Bowling Alone (1995) showed that community life had severely eroded
Bowling Alone (1995) showed that community life had severely eroded

Pinker keeps reminding us that no man is an island. We need each other, and we thrive on the specific kinds of interactions she outlines in her article-padded-into-book-size, interactions that not only naturally feel good, but are also ‘good’ for us as well.

No man is an island
No man is an island