Man seeks bowling buddies, not online friends

Published 7:38 am Tuesday, October 13, 2009

According to an Albert Lea Tribune story from May of 2008 quoting statistics from 2007, Albert Lea Area Schools employed more than 450 workers. Certainly that number is lower now due to declining enrollment.

Still, of the more than 400 District 241 employees, I was able to gather 10 for a bowling league at Holiday Lanes.


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And this league is open to District 241 employees and family of those employees. That brings the potential bowler pool to … well … let’s just say it could be a crowded pool.

Now, one disclosure must be made. A minor baby boom is happening in the district, at least among high school employees, where I work. That’s great for future school enrollment numbers, not so great for current bowling league numbers, as three of the six new parents are former members of the Educators Bowling League. Actually, a second disclosure is necessary, too. People, for some reason, seem to have a fear of bowling in leagues. They think it requires you have your own ball and your own shoes and use all sorts of fancy spin. Nothing could be further from the truth in our league.

You see, the point of our league is simply to gather with fellow colleagues, many of whom work in different buildings and, hence, we never see. Nothing more.

And yet, there we are, just the 10 of us, surrounded by empty lanes.

But, really, I think it’s bigger than baby booms and bogus fears of what constitutes being a league bowler.

This problem is societal. This problem is Facebook. This problem is a shift in how people define being social. Who cares that you have 942 “friends” on Facebook? You probably talk to those people less because you no longer have anything to discuss.

Sure, Facebook has its benefits. My mother-in-law found relatives with whom she’d lost contact. That’s great. In the meantime she’s probably talked less or not at all to the people with whom she’s never felt like she lost contact. We know more, yet interact less.

Sure, knowledge is power. But if that knowledge is in a vacuum, then it benefits no one, least of all yourself. Knowledge requires dialogue to sprout. Dialogue involves more than hearing the sound of someone’s voice. It should involve all of your senses. You remember when people used to get together over beers? That doesn’t happen as often in the Facebook era.

Don’t believe me? How about a trio of experts: Robert Putnam, Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Buettner.

‘Bowling Alone’

Robert Putnam, professor at Harvard University, wrote a book published in 2000 titled “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.”

According to, Putnam’s research included 500,000 interviews conducted over the last 25 years. The book’s basic premise, according to the Web site, is “we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. We’re even bowling alone. More Americans are bowling than ever before, but they are not bowling in leagues.”

Granted, this research is nearly a decade old, and an entire new study should be conducted taking into account the recession. But the premise remains the same. We are out and about; we just are out and about interacting with others.

I know I’m guilty of this. Granted, I do bowl in a bowling league that brings me together with others I wouldn’t otherwise see and interact, but meanwhile I live on a great street in a great neighborhood and hardly know my neighbors. What I do know of my neighbors is they’re all wonderful people, yet how often do I get together with them? A few of them would even like to see the house my wife and I moved into since the previous owner remodeled it. They’d been in it before the remodeling, but not since. You think I’ve ever taken the time to walk over and invite them to dinner? Embarrassingly, the answer is no.

The magic number: 150

Social scientist, best-selling author and recent cultural phenomenon, Malcolm Gladwell, dubbed it the Rule of 150 in his book “The Tipping Point.”

He surmises the human brain is only capable of handling so much, including the ability to be familiar with 150 people. His information dealt mostly with group size and that group’s ability to function successfully. Certainly, we all define friendship differently, but that’s not Gladwell’s point. He says you can’t truly remain genuinely informed with more than 150 people, so why try?

Yet, according to my wife, it’s not uncommon to see people with three, four or even five times that number on their Facebook “friends” list. So at some point it has to be counterproductive to add continue adding “friends.” (I’ll allow you to interpret for yourself the reason for the quote marks around “friends” whenever in close proximity to the word Facebook.) If you equate status with your number of Facebook “friends,” I hate to say it but it’s only self-imposed, my friend. Nobody cares.

Can social networking replace face to face?

The above header was taken from under the tab Right Tribe. Dan Buettner, a name with which many of you are now familiar, is the author of “The Blue Zones.” He wrote the following on the above Web site:

“Dr. Robert Kane, University of Minnesota’s chairman of long-term care and aging and one of Blue Zones advisers, recently addressed that very question. We both agree that there are several benefits to social connectedness:

“1. As people age, having someone checking in on you is very important.

“2. Other people can give our lives meaning, a reason to get up and out of the house.

“3. We’re evolutionarily designed to socialize so there is likely a biological link between connectedness and how well our bodies (immune system, etc.) works.

“4. The knowledge that we’re not alone in the world reduces stress, puts us at ease.”

I think Facebook may partially satisfy 1 and 4 above and, hence, is better than no contact at all, but for 2 and 3, I don’t think there’s any real substitute for that face-to-face, back-slapping, human aura that comes with Happy Hour with friends and a good, sit-down chat.”

Amen to that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a happy hour to attend. If you’re not already meeting me there, the Vitality Project’s celebration is at 7 p.m. tonight at Albert Lea High School. My guess is “Bowling Alone” author Robert Putnam would most certainly encourage you to attend and celebrate and mingle and be social.

Heck, he might even suggest skipping league bowling for it.

Riley Worth can be reached at