Yes, it’s me. After more than a year of silence, I’m still here. I’m still neighboring.
I haven’t blogged in the past year because I didn’t have much new to share. I’m continuing to enjoy great connections with my neighbors via shared meals, book clubbing, enjoying invitations and big cups of coffee together. Always lots of coffee.
This week, in fact, I began my third year of my neighborhood coffee klatch. And, as most of the awesome ladies left about 2 hours after the ‘official end time,’ I think it’s safe to say they’re continuing to enjoy it as much as I am.
A stunning truth
During the four hours of our conversation and java jitters, a truth was shared about our neighborhood that stunned me. When my husband and I moved in 17 years ago every block in our neighborhood had a captain. The captains took point on welcoming a new neighbor with a personal note and a copy of the neighborhood directory. Throughout the year they’d deliver paper flyers to everyone’s porch announcing block parties, HOA meetings, the annual garage sale and Easter egg hunts.
Then everything went online.
A website and email system was created for efficiency and the hope that, as with everything in the digital age, 24/7 availability of information would help neighbors be more informed.
But it seems that an inadvertent casualty in our digital efforts is the diminished perceived need for the analog touch of our block captains. In 2000, we had 17 block captains covering 17 blocks. Today? We have 4. Is this true in your neighborhood too?
The information-internet-social media age boasts its ability to ‘connect us to the world.’ Yet in reality it appears to be increasing our isolation and making us measurably less happy. With everything now readily available online, have we lost the need to walk outside our doors and share information directly with our neighbors? While we’ve been busy patting ourselves on the back for ‘going digital’ and ‘saving trees’ have we, in fact, actually lost the thing we need most: the need to communicate and build authentic relationship with one another face to face?
Seattle’s relational dichotomy
Last January, a social media fueled movement saw an estimated 120,000 people join the Women’s March in Seattle, standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity to publicly and passionately defend women’s rights. That SAME WEEK, the Seattle Times published yet another article about The Seattle Freeze, quoting people’s relational isolation after relocating to Seattle:
“Everyone talks about their cool outdoor hobbies but nobody actually includes you.”
“People here keep to themselves, unless you’re part of their pack.”
“In Seattle, it’s harder to get to know people. Often, I feel like I make good connections that just don’t develop into an actual friendship.”
We Seattleites have a dichotomous relational nature. We’re eager to march shoulder to shoulder alongside thousands of strangers but we’re not so inclined to actually build a friendship with the person who lives next door. Why is that?
It’s time for an analog revolution – for ourselves, for our children
In the September issue of The Atlantic, San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge penned a disturbing piece Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? in which she unpacks her study about teens in America becoming more relationally isolated as a result of “doing life” on their digital devices. They are spending time with friends less, dating less and have a much higher propensity to ‘feel lonely’ or depressed than previous generations. They’re withdrawing into a digital world of pseudo-relationship and pseudo-social life comparisons.
Are we ready to put down these stupid phones and tablets and step forward to be a block captain? On September 15, the Seattle Times published a great opinion piece by Cary Bozeman, a former mayor of Bellevue and Bremerton, in which he writes
“I have come to believe that the local neighborhood might be the most effective and powerful tool we have today that can impact the quality of our lives.”
I couldn’t agree more.
p.s.: While I haven’t written this past year, my blog has continued to receive traffic from individuals finding me through varied internet searches. By far, the number one blog post searched for and found? “How we overcome sadness when that great neighbor moves away.” In our highly mobile culture, people all around us are searching for meaningful connection. Perhaps they’re searching for us.