As I drove home from work today, I took notice of all the activity happening in the neighborhoods I found myself driving through. What struck me was the solitary nature of the actions. I watched individuals, doing their own thing, minding their own business. From out of left field, this got me thinking about my ‘neighborhood experience’ – past and present.
For those of you that know me well, you know that I’m a very private person. I have few close friends. When I’m in their presence, however, I tend to be an open book.
A lot of you may be reading this, and thinking, ‘If you’re private, then Elvis is still alive.’
To which I would respond, ‘Don’t be stupid – everyone knows that Elvis is living in a Winnebago in Michigan with Jim Morrison. Duh.’
My current home is located in a middle class neighborhood. It’s one of those neighborhoods that was developed with the same ten or twelve home designs, modified slightly to suit. It’s an affordable community of predominantly blue collar, to off-white collar, individuals.
I love my home. It is my fortress of solitude.
Uh, not so much. Them I could do without.
Back to my earlier observation, though:
I noted these folks, and I considered all of the times that I had seen folks outside, doing things. What stuck out was that seldom did I see neighborly interaction on either a large or small scale. Oh sure, some of my neighbors might be caught talking to one another every now and again. But it was nothing like the comparison that came to the fore of my mind. That being: it was nothing like I remember growing up.
On Pauline Avenue, almost everyone knew everyone. I can still mentally recall the interiors of 70% of the homes there. The neighbors held garage sales together. They had cookouts. There were swimming pool gatherings. Often neighbors could be spotted helping one another out with some project or another, a friendly beer or soda in hand, offered up as payment for the assistance and the company. Fences served a secondary function as being a spot to lean when conversing for long periods of time with one’s neighbor. Dinners were had together. Cards were played. Board games made an occasional appearance. Events were attended in company.
In short, we were a social organism comprised of the ever-morphing interchange of individuals.
In hindsight, it was pretty flippin’ cool.
So where has that gone?
I found myself asking this, and contemplated the response. The results of which I’d like to present for your consideration.
First off, I don’t think this sort of social interaction is dead, per se. I believe it still lives on in a number of places. I just think that it’s migrated to further corners of the social spectrum. I think that with the advent of social media and cellular phones, our society fundamentally changed. We re-wired ourselves from a patient and slow moving collective into a hyper-impatient society that demands that everything be available at one’s fingertips, 24/7.
Imagine how many conversations were had where a question was posed, and no one was certain of the answer. Or how about conversations where bits and pieces of news were shared to form a larger whole? Those sorts of things required a group-mind mentality that was obliterated with the likes of Google and smart phones. In a few seconds, we can know just about anything. Conversation doesn’t even have time to blossom. It’s shot down like a clay pigeon on a skeet range.
Second, I think that our news media changed how we perceive our surroundings. We’ve gone from a ‘no bullshit’, solid facts and hard news society, to one that is fed more spin than a top on Christmas morning, circa 1800. We’re led to believe that everyone around us is a psychotic pervert terrorist who is just jonesing to kill us, have sex with our corpse, and then eat our pet Chihuahua. Furthering this degradation was the advent of ‘shock television’. We found ourselves presented with ‘reality’ shows that centered on the lowest common denominators in human behavior. And – inexplicably to me – we ate it up. Then, we took it a step further. We transposed these behaviors and scenarios into those that occurred in our own lives. Without consciously considering it, perhaps, we juxtaposed baby daddy #2 on Springer with our neighbor Roy.
Third, I believe that we’ve permitted ourselves to be robbed of more and more of our free time. As the decades have passed, we’ve accepted the fact that work weeks don’t often end at 40 hours. We’re often the victims of living to work, instead of working to live. We’re spoon fed media messages from every medium and direction, all of which tell us what’s wrong with us, what we simply must have, and that having more and better than anyone else is a fundamental end that simply must be achieved. We’ve bought in to this charade of hyper-consumerism. We purchase things we don’t need. Then, we need to earn more, and with those earnings purchase more things we don’t need. It’s a vicious cycle that’s become a way of life for many.
Fourth, we’ve forgotten what it is to not overcommit and simply relax. We were promised that technology would make our lives better, more streamlined, and better situated to permit us more leisure time.
Precisely the opposite has occurred.
We now find ourselves wedded to our technology. It permits our work to follow us home, dogging what are supposed to be our off hours. With that technology has also come commercial time-sucks in the guise of ‘leisure’ activities. Instead of going outside and working in the garden, we spend hours staring into an LCD harvesting crops in our computer farms, building non-existent things and empires, or developing armies to invade a non-existent enemy in a place dreamed up by someone we will never meet.
Many of us have gone from being a part of a social continent, to a cluster of archipelagoes in the nineties, to a series of islands surrounded by vast, doldrum-saddled expanses of empty ocean in the modern day.
Perhaps, however, there is still hope. There is a growing movement in America toward who we ought to be, instead of who we are. The organic movement, the tiny house movement, the anti-corruption in politics movements – all of these have developed from the void created for us to dwell in, in the modern era.
I believe that these things all stem from a sense of disconnectedness, a sense of longing for the things we cannot buy; things which take social interaction and human effort to achieve. Things like friendship, symbiotic neighborhoods, communities, and social activities. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start.
As I wrap this up, I encourage you to look at your own lives. Are you better off than when you were younger? Has technology brought you closer to your family and friends, or driven you further apart? When was the last time you invited friends over for a game? Had a cookout?
I’m hopeful that, as a nation, we’ll hit our breaking point. I also hope that it’s sooner, rather than later. I’d like nothing more than for every child to experience the sort of ‘neighborhood upbringing’ that I did. It was something that is fast becoming extinct. When we open our eyes to the issues that begin with the super-rich, trickle down to our politicians, and finally to ourselves, I hope we see them for what they are. And I hope we choose to be a catalyst to eliminate these wrongs perpetrated upon us, including the sense of community that I cherished so much as a child.
Heath D. Alberts – Co-Founder & Marketing Director
Author of: ‘Terminal Beginning‘ (2010) | ‘Guerrilla Business‘ (2012) | ‘The Battery Man‘ (2013) | ‘Last Rights‘ (2013) | “Deeper” (2014) | ‘Photographic Memory‘ (2014) | ‘Guerrilla Business 2.0‘ (2015) | ‘Not On The List‘ (2015)
Categories: Community & Events