Monday, July 5, 2010

Won't you be.... my neighbor?

Neighbor is one word where the British spelling always seems better to me - neighbour - random note.

It was roughly 2004 when I really started digging into blogging - when the list of blogs I followed grew exponentially, I started RoelleKids, and I started noodling on a potential whitepaper "Personal Encounters in a Digital World" - shortly thereafter I was moved to a different assignment where I was not required to produce whitepapers and didn't really have time for that anyway. Not that I stopped obsessing, just never wrote the paper.

Part of the fodder for the paper was the book Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam. It's been a while since I've read the book, so no extensive review here. My feelings for it were mixed. It's a great treatise, but also annoyed me enough that I lashed out in my margin notes. Part of the problem is that the social sphere of the web that Putnam described seemed dated to the days of primarily usenet groups and he didn't seem to get that people were connecting in ways that made it accessible to everyone.

I dislike the implication that if you're connecting online you're not connecting in the real world and society is going to pot. We all know the power of Meetups - that online connections become more valuable when you can meet face-to-face. And many people who are active online are active in other aspects of community as well.

Community isn't deteriorating, it's adapting.

The Pew Internet & American Life project recently released a report citing that, while face-to-face encounters and phone calls are still the top ways neighbors communicate, 27% of adult Internet users connect to neighbors or neighborhood orgs via online tools. I think that's cool. You're going to get to know neighbors faster if you start interacting with them online, rather than spending months or years waiting for friendly nods to turn into a conversation. People who may be bashful about in-person neighborhood meetings (me) may be more more comfortable speaking out/ volunteering from an online forum.

I'm pleased that there has not been a wave of concern or backlash around these findings - that people realize this is just one piece of the puzzle.

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