In 2006, the celebrated social theorist Robert Putnam shared …
In 2006, the celebrated social theorist Robert Putnam shared results from his Social Capital Benchmark Survey, which suggests that contemporary Americans have a long way to go before they embrace the multicultural promise of a city like New York. In Putnam’s study, “people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down.’” They are less likely to vote, work on community projects, give to charity, or volunteer than Americans in less diverse cities. They have less confidence in government’s ability to solve problems, fewer friends, and a lower perceived quality of life.
Earlier sociological theories suggested that contact between ethnic groups led either to improved social relations or to conflict between groups – “contact theory” versus “conflict theory.” Putnam believes that survey data from American cities point to a third possibility: “constrict theory,” a tendency to shy away from contact when presented with diversity. If Putnam’s constrict theory is right, and if it also underpins our behavior online, it raises uncomfortable questions about the potentials and realities opened by the Internet. Connecting with people from other backgrounds is hard, even when they live next door or in the same city; paying attention to the problems and concerns of people in the rest of the world is harder still.
Ethan Zuckerman in “Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection” (2013)