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I, Shalome Sine, give my instructor, Jessica OHara, permission to submit my essay The Rise of Individualism and its Impact

on Communities to Penn Statements on my behalf. I also give her permission to use my paper as an anonymous student essay example in future classes. Shalome Sine Dr. OHara Rhetoric and Civic Live 18 November 2012 The Rise of Individualism and its Impact on Communities Human beings are not always as selfless and caring as possible. Its clear from even our earliest history that man has always been known to lie, steal, or cheatanything necessary to achieve an end. But since the beginning of our existence as a species, man has been forced to help one another. Without the sharing of knowledge, ideas, and technology, we never could have achieved the things we are capable of today. Schools, medicine, computers, any invention anyone can think of that exists today is evidence of what we are as a species: dependent on one another. And so, in order to accommodate this need for one another, we form communities. This seems an obvious observation of humanity. Everyone who is not a hermit has been a part of some form of community. Being able to live and operate as a group or society is one of mans most basic and defining characteristics. And yet, a paradigm shift has taken place which tests the very core of what it means to be human. It is the shift of how we view ourselves, and consequently how we view the people around us. Communities are becoming more difficult to define, and are becoming smaller and less common as the paradigm shift results in a widespread push toward individual satisfaction. According an article by Erik Klinenberg in The Guardian newspaper, the number of people living alone has risen by approximately 80% in 15 years. In an investigation of why this

phenomenon is taking place, Klinenberg found that, Today, young solitaires actively reframe living alone as a mark of distinction and success. They use it as a way to invest time in their personal and professional growth. Such investments in the self are necessary, they say, because contemporary families are fragile, as are most jobs, and in the end each of us must be able to depend on ourselves (Klinenberg). The ability to remove ourselves from the world around us is a skill which the young adult generation today has developed and perfected, and this skill is becoming a common tool used to deal with strenuous and challenging lifestyles. It is popular, young adults argue, because it is necessarybecause self-sufficiency is the key to a fulfilling life. This self-reliant mentality is not uncommon; in fact, the statements about individualism made by these young adults indicate that there is a worldwide trend toward a view of the autonomous lifestyle which praises its independence, efficiency, and sensibility. It is a mentality which states that human beings no longer need each other. The cult of the individual, as French sociologist mile Durkheim would describe the trend toward individualism in the 19th century, is not a new concept (Marske 1). However, its drastic rise in popularity has been noticed by many as a marked change in society. The rise of individualism and the decline of interdependence are, by definition, correlational. Many have seen a change in the way community life is viewed because of the rise of individualism. An interview with my neighbor Vicky Severn enlightened me to the fact that, People push for their own futures and their own security, which is a good thing, but sometimes the communities they were a part of get left behind because they want to get ahead (Severn). The general consensus among my interviewees has been that that there is a marked difference in the way communities function today versus how they previously did, and this difference is one which drives communities apart in pursuit of self-satisfaction. The shift has taken place as the result of a

perfect storm of economic pressure, a desensitizing barrage of images from popular media, and the technology which allows us to function on our own. ECONOMIC PRESSURE In 2008, the United States began to experience a crippling recession, the effects of which are still felt today (Dayen). By 2008, the number of people with undergraduate degrees had increased so sharply that the now-crumbling job market was saturated with too many people who were too qualified for not enough jobs (Katel). As the economy plummeted, it was clear to many that their expensive degrees would no longer be assured to pay themselves off. Even the most qualified and willing to work found that they were at risk of remaining unemployed after completing their education. My neighbor, Christine Exposito, expressed that she was familiar with this particular phenomenon. We posted a sign on the door that we were hiring an entry-level employee, she explained. Entry level. Meaning, no experience necessary. Ten people applied for that job, and out of them, seven had masters degrees or higher. One of them had a PhD. When, shocked, I asked what the subject of study was for which he held a PhD, she shook her head and answered, I dont know. We didnt even look at him twice. He was so overqualified (Exposito). The job market has become so limited that graduates are searching for any means to support themselves and pay off student debt, even if they are grossly overqualified for the job. The market is full, there is no room for anyone who does not hold a degree in fact, even qualified applicants are now being turned away in greater numbers than ever. Every overqualified applicant has a degree, every degree cost money, and, because that applicant cant find a suitable job, every student loan of his or hers goes unpaid for. The resulting cycle of debt is well-known, its real, and its terrifying.

This chain of events has not always existed. My father, a Penn State alumni, observed that, When I was in college, we all just assumed that wed get a job. And a good job, too. It was considered a real accomplishment to get a degree when I was your age (Sine, Scott). My father graduated from Penn State in 1989. In just 23 years, the attitude of employers has shifted from being impressed by bachelors degrees to being forced to reject applicants with masters degrees and beyond. Its no surprise, then, that there is pressure felt by those who are young adults and younger to prepare for their futures, and the mad rush for college acceptance and subsequent job recruitment have pushed young people to individualism. There is no longer a place in the job market for everyone, so some people get left behind. Its just the way it works, said my sister, a freshman in high school. Its sad, I wish there were jobs for everyone, but youre not likely to get a job unless you really work at it (Sine, Abiel). Anxiety for the future stemming from the economic downturn has become the source of an every-man-for-himself attitude about the future. The economy cant be trusted, and no one else can be trusted to take care of our future. We need to be able to rely on and provide for ourselves. When young people reject the need for support, their families are often the first community around them which takes a blow. In order to secure a future for themselves, young adults will do anything, including move out and live alone. Many of them will travel to cities and try to advance themselves in society (Klinenberg). Moving out of their parents homes is a sign of success and stability because by getting their own place to live, they are proving that they can make enough money for themselves to provide rent. Moving out doesnt necessarily mean that a persons family life will disintegrate, but in a cutthroat job environment, young adults will do anything to look, feel and be successfuland sometimes, this drives them to avoid phone calls home. In an article from moneybluebook.com, a personal finance advice website, the author of

an article titled, Explaining Why Financially Independent Men Rarely Call Their Mothers, observes his reasons for not calling home on Mothers Day: The more financially and socially independent men tend to be more self reliant and don't feel the need to call their moms on a daily, weekly or even semi regular basis to talk about nothing in particular. When I pick up the phone, I call a person for a specific purpose and not just to shoot the breeze. I always find it strange when some people call for no reason at all or just to chat. (Explaining) The author of this article is not alone in his feelings of apathy toward conversations which occur for no quantifiable reason. Nearly every comment on that open-forum style page expressed some sort of agreement with the author. People who defined themselves as, successful, and, busy (Explaining), had, without any apparent second-guessing or remorse, deemed phone calls home unnecessary. In saying that phone calls home have no purpose, the author is claiming that the value of a regularly maintained relationship with his mother does not exceed the value of his time, because, as a successful man, time is money. The sequence of priorities held by this man is considered to be acceptable by his peers in a competitive business world. But is it acceptable? Why are we, as a society, so ready to throw away our relationships with the people who influenced our lives most as we grew up? Its certainly come a long way from the old tradition of families relying on each other to help one another through life. There was never a specific golden age of family functionality; there will always be (and have always been) families that are dysfunctional. But it wasnt always acceptable to regard our parents as burdens on our busy lives. Traditionally, children who grow up are expected to repay their parents for raising them by staying in touch or even taking care of them. Clearly, there has been a considerable change in our society.

This push toward self-reliance and away from family contact is a result of the anxiety felt by todays society when we think of the future. We dont want anythingeven our own familiesto hold us back, because we need to get ahead, because if were not ahead, were behind. There is no longer any in-between when people with PhDs are being turned away from entry-level jobs.

COMMONPLACES AND MEDIA-BASED DESENSITIZATION When I have children, there will be no video games allowed in the house! exclaimed my classmate Jacqueline Proszynski during an interview about modern commonplaces regarding violence. They are too gory. And they eat your life. Its like they teach you how to be antisocial (Proszynski). Proszynskis observations are a reflection of what she sees in the desensitization of the public, which the media pressures us to accept. In everything, from video games to television, were taught to accept gore, violence, and meaningless sex, because they are portrayed as normal parts of real life. Its not real, though, explained forty-three-year-old Hannah Pugliese. Real violence is complicated. Its not random, like you see on television. Its the result of wars and messed-up childhoods (Pugliese). The media portrays to us one version of reality which forces us to have a pessimistic view on life. It forces us to swallow the fact that violence and sex exist, which is true, but it paints an image of the two which does not necessarily reflect reality. As a result, people become more and more desensitized to the unrealistic violence and sexual lifestyles they observe on television every day. And the desensitization, for many, is an uncomfortable process, because it forces us to abandon parts of our emotional selves which make us healthy human beings. When asked about television sex lives, for example, a peer of mine named Laurana Seymour observed that, Society used to want us to have romantic feelings about each other but not sex.

Now its like were being pressured to have sex but not feelings. I think society needs to be accepting of both (Seymour). There is a dissociation between actions (including everything from sex to murder) and the emotions that should go along with those actions. Young women look at television shows and listen to popular music and get the impression that they should be able to have sexual lives which mean nothing on a deeper, emotional level. They fear becoming the character on television whom is mocked for crying or feeling guilty after sexual activity and therefore, they cut themselves off from those emotions as a way of managing what they think is expected of them. Young men are expected to be able to kill remorselessly in video games like Call of Duty, and are thus forced to disassociate feelings of empathy or guilt with acts of violence. The way its all set up, the way young people are being presented with these images, makes them think that they need to act a certain way when in reality, they dont, Pugliese stated. And when you detach yourself from reality, it hurts your relationships (Pugliese). In addition to consuming hours of our lives which may have been spent in face-to-face human interaction, the media also drives us apart because it holds us to unrealistic standards. Ideal people today are attractive and independent, but also never overemotional. Their success, in many circumstances, is portrayed as being a product of their ability to compartmentalize everything about themselves, and thus separate emotions from actions in order to get things done. But if someone were to really pursue this perfectly sorted lifestyle, they would find it nearly impossible. Emotions are a part of life. They are a part of who we are, and they are also an important part of how we relate to each other. Pursuing the ideals portrayed by media influences can only force someone to become increasingly detached from emotions and therefore increasingly dependent on him- or herself. And so, while the economy is pushing us to be individualistic for monetary reasons, the media is also forcing the importance of individualism in the modern ideal person.

TECHNOLOGY- A MEDIUM FOR SELF-SUFFICIENCY AND PERFECTIONISM Technology, as previously stated, is a sign of universal human interdependence. Perhaps, for example, it only took one person to invent the toaster, but it took another to invent electricity, and still another to invest in the invention, and still more people to produce it. Technological advances are a sign that humanity is working together to create something new. Its ironic, therefore, that many have noticed a tendency toward isolation because of modern technology. My mother always said that communities started breaking down when air conditioners were invented said Vicki Severn. When asked why, she explained that, before air conditioners, people would have to sit on their porches in the summer. They had to go outside and greet each other in order to stay cool. Now, people can cool off alone, inside their own houses (Severn). In aiding us to become self-sufficient, technology has had a costly side-effect: we are now far less dependent on one another, and therefore less likely to find reasons for human interaction. I realized after the interview with Severn that there are many items of technological significance which exist in my life every day, and which I take for granted. How many of them are like air conditioners? How many of them draw us apart by giving us the option to be alone? Sherry Turkle of The New York Times has studied the impact of technology on modernday human interactions. In an article examining the rise of individualism as a result of technological advances, she finds that, Weve become accustomed to a new way of being alone together. Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party (Turkle). Turkle observes that people are becoming more and more capable of customizing their lives to fit their own ideals. And she is correct; modern technology allows us to edit and customize everything about ourselves. Everything we send, from tweets to

posts to texts, is editable, and we edit ourselves to fit ideals (which, not surprisingly, often stem from aforementioned unrealistic media sources). But after we edit ourselves and our profiles, we find that when we look into an actual mirror, life does not come with the option of Sepia tone. In the mad rush for perfection, we can often find that suddenly, our perfectionism has caused us to form unrealistic expectations of ourselves and each other based on the profiles and accounts we create. And so we feel pressure to put on masks in our day-to-day lives which can live up to the lives we see ourselves and others having online. These masks, however, rarely draw people together. Instead, we find ourselves fighting an individual battle for flawlessness and conformity, shielding others from our human imperfections in order to pursue ideals. The radical changes which have taken place as the result of the introduction of technological devices such as cell phones has affected nearly every community imaginable; families, neighborhoods, classmates, coworkers, and even two people sharing the same sidewalk now communicate with each other in radically different ways. Namely: they dont. They avoid communication because its easier not to have to speak to people directly. As one businessman stated, Id rather just do things on my BlackBerry (qtd. in Turkle). Potentially awkward eye contact or small talk can be entirely avoided if the parties involved simply pull out their phones and begin texting other people more relevant to their own lives. Instead of dealing with the realities of human interaction, which is never perfect, we have the option of outsourcing our interactions to anyone we choose at any given time. We can make ourselves entirely alone in a crowded room by pretending to text no one, and we can feel incredibly social sitting alone in an empty room by texting everyone. Every form of the denial of in-person human contact is now incredibly possible and accessible. And its pulling communities apart.

It would appear from the way that humans handle all of these pressures to individualize that we want to be alone. We give in to the social commonplace of forgetting the importance of our families. We change ourselves to attempt to fit images portrayed in the media. And we would rather pull away from each other using our technology than deal with the messiness of actual human relationships. It seems that people, when given any reason, will reject each other in favor of an unattainable ideal. But of the three reasons I have given for the rise in individualism, not one of them are, as Hannah Pugliese would say, real. Economic and media pressures have interlocked to give us a picture of a successful ideal that cannot be realistically achieved. Technology is refined and enhanced and refined again to allow us to be consumed in a virtual world of editable images and optional friendships. None of these things exist in the way that our fellow human beings do. I have too much faith in the human need for other humans to believe that we will ever be able to exist alone. Maybe we, as a society, will never be able to reverse the trend toward individualism. Maybe we will never regain the sense of community we once had before an economic downturn, a media storm of inappropriate images, and strikingly accessible technology convinced us it was a good idea to live alone. But this trend cant advance much further than it has. As much as we would like to compartmentalize and perfect ourselves, people will always depend on one another, will always experience genuine emotions, will always care about their families. And communities of people, therefore, will always need to exist.

Works Cited Dayen, David. "Krugman Coins a Phrase: "The Lesser Depression"" Firedoglake.com. FDL News Desk, 22 July 2011. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. <http://news.firedoglake.com/2011/07/22krugman-coins-a-phrase-the-lesser-depression>. "Explaining Why Financially Independent Men Rarely Call Their Mothers." Moneybluebook.com. Money Blue Book, 3 Aug. 2011. Web. 3 Nov. 2012. <http://www.moneybluebook.com/explaining-why-financially-independent-men-rarelycall-their-mothers/>. Exposito, Christine. Telephone interview. 6 Nov. 2012. Katel, Peter. "Jobs Outlook." Library.cqpress.com. CQ Researcher, 4 June 2010. Web. 7 Nov. 2012. <http://library.cqpress.com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqr esrre2010060400&type=hitlist&num=21>. Klinenberg, Eric. "I Want to Be Alone: The Rise and Rise of Solo Living." The Guardian 30 Mar. 2012, Life & Style sec.: n. pag. Print. Marske, Charles E. "Durkheim's "Cult of the Individual" and the Moral Reconstitution of Society." JSTOR, n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. Proszynski, Jacqueline. Personal interview. 2 Nov. 2012. Pulgiese, Hannah. Telephone interview. 10 Nov. 2012. Severn, Vicky. Telephone interview. 2 Nov. 2012. Seymour, Lauana. Telephone interview. 2 Nov. 2012.

Sine, Abiel. Telephone interview. 2 Nov. 2012. Sine, Scott. Telephone interview. 3 Nov. 2012. Turkle, Sherry. "The Flight from Conversation." The New York Times 21 Apr. 2012.