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THE CONNECTION GAP: Why Americans Feel So Alone

Laura Pappano, Author . Rutgers Univ. $26 (248p) ISBN 978-0-8135-2979-0

In one of the most thoughtful of the recent spate of books on the disheartening relationship between technology, consumerism and community (e.g., Cass Sunstein's Republic.com and Richard DeGrandpre's Digitopia), Boston Globe journalist Pappano examines our market-driven desire to have it all—faster, bigger and better. Among her central observations: that people are encouraged to be consumers above all, developing "relationships" with familiar brands, and that we have learned to evaluate our personal lives in terms of cost-benefit analyses—thinking about friendships in light of what we've invested and earned, looking for love in the classified ads. What separates this book from the pack is Pappano's careful examination of our changing feelings about technology and emotional connection. Pointing to 1950s magazines, she reveals that TV was first marketed as something that would draw families together and stimulate conversation, and that long-distance calls were touted as being "almost like a visit." (Little did we know, Pappano writes, that we'd end up passively watching TV and using Caller ID to screen people out.) Unafraid to introduce observations that might challenge her argument, Pappano notes that TV is "the only reliable common language, reference, and activity Americans participate in together." Similarly, in her fascinating critique of planned smalltown communities (such as Disney's Celebration, Fla.), she wonders if it's possible that urban design actually might change behavior. (July)

Forecast:Though it may languish if shelved next to James Gleick's heavily publicized Faster, Pappano's book will appeal to readers interested in an engaging and intelligent rant against the unnecessary "necessities" of modern life.

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
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