The local drinking hole could be one of the last bastions of meaningful human interaction in an increasingly digitized age.
As technology continues to evolve, so too will the environments in which we drink alcohol.
Sorry, Drinky the loneliness-fighting robotic drinking buddy, but research undertaken by Oxford's Department of Experimental Psychology and commissioned by pub-preservationists CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) has confirmed the basic human truth that every watering-hole regular already knows.
In a study entitled "Friends on Tap: The Role of Pubs at the Heart of Community," a team of psychologists and anthropologists looked at the physical and psychological benefits of going to a bar on a regular basis—and those benefits appear to be plenty.
Specifically, the team found that people who live near a local pub tend to have more close friends "on whom they can call for support," and are generally happier and more trusting of others than those who do not.
"Friendship and community are probably the two most important factors influencing our health and well-being. Making and maintaining friendships, however, is something that has to be done face-to-face: the digital world is simply no substitute," lead researcher Professor Robin Dunbar said in a press release. "Given the increasing tendency for our social life to be online rather than face-to-face, having relaxed accessible venues where people can meet old friends and make new ones becomes ever more necessary."
In other words, the local drinking hole could be one of the last bastions of meaningful human interaction in an increasingly digitized age. But the benefits of regular drinking are not just social, and the study emphasized that alcohol consumption can improve cognitive ability and some aspects of health.
"Directly and indirectly (by allowing us to meet face-to-face), modest alcohol consumption also enables us to build friendships and create a sense of community," the study reads. "And there is considerable evidence that social network size and quality has dramatic effects on health, well-being, happiness and even survival."
This is a far cry from the "barfly" stigma normally associated with being a regular at a bar. But before you go out and use this research as an excuse for hardcore boozing, it's worth mentioning that Dunbar's research does come with a few caveats. For starters, moderation is key, as alcohol intake beyond a moderate level will detract from any psychological or social benefits.
Also, as counterintuitive as it may seem, drinkers in city centers—despite drinking in larger social groups—are actually having significantly shorter conversations and are less engaged within their interactions.
Still, the overall results of the research seem to indicate that dive bars and local pubs may be providing a far more important service than just getting people trashed—they could be a crucial part of our social fabric.
"If we can persuade people to get off their smart phones and get down to the pub to talk to each other," the Oxford study concluded. "It is likely to have dramatic effects on health and well-being, as well as community cohesion."