Robert D. Putnam
Alexis de Toqueville thought that with the spread of democracy society would become more atomized. The antidote to this would be membership in political and civic organizations. As things worked out, we got the disease but not the cure. Perhaps the most important sociological study of the last half century (the only competition I can think of would be The Spirit Level), Bowling Alone looks at how it happened and the damage done. Technology is the leading culprit. Which leads to the question of how much of this has been a natural evolution. Would we have become cocooned screen-potatoes in earlier ages if we’d only had screens? In his conclusion Putnam tries to be optimistic but his prescriptions for change by 2010 are, in hindsight, funny in a sad way. Let’s face it, the Internet, which in 2000 one could still hold out hope for as an engine for positive change, has only sped the decline.