Book review

The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier

Book review

Author Susan Pinker explains how important interpersonal relationships are, and warns that they're eroding.

How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier
By Susan Pinker
Random House Canada, 2014, 418 pages, $32
ISBN: 978-0-307-35953-7

It’s almost become a cliché to say that in today’s technology-saturated world, people are more connected than ever yet they’ve never been more isolated. Real social interaction is as basic a human need as food, yet we’re starving. If it takes a village to raise a child, that village is crumbling.

In The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier, author Susan Pinker looks at how interpersonal relationships are eroding and just how deeply they matter.

It’s a fascinating read that is by turns scary, depressing, inspiring, and reassuring.

Based in Montreal, Pinker is a developmental psychologist and journalist who digs deep into the significance of social bonds and the ways in which people need people: in real time, in the flesh.

She travels the world to share vivid illustrations of this. People living in the Sardinian village of Villagrande, for instance, outlive those in Europe and North America by as many as 30 years. While genetics play a role in their longevity, people here in their 90s and 100s live in their own homes or their children’s, with people they’ve known their whole lives. They have frequent contact with relatives, including great-grandchildren. They help each other and expect help when they need it. They have a strong sense of belonging and enjoy ongoing face-to-face contact with people who care about them.

Pinker delves into brain function and breast cancer and the way steady exposure to electronic devices negatively affects kids’ academic progress. She packs her prose with references to rigorous scientific research, making her points all the more sobering. Victims of cyberbullying, for instance, experience higher rates of clinical depression than “standard” victims, according to the National Institutes of Health. If teenagers feel alienated—a mood that prompts many to turn to “social” media for connections—their attempts to form relationships online only amplify that sense of loneliness, according to a study published in Developmental Psychology.

But The Village Effect offers more than reams of intriguing, if frightening, data. Pinker, who writes in an easy, accessible style, offers solutions. Among them: have real human contact during your workday. Talk to your neighbours. Build social contact into your day the way you would exercise.

“All we need to do is picture what our own real, in-person villages might look like,” she advises, “and then reach out to create them.”

The Village Effect

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