In the last few years, I’ve read lots of hand-wringing columns in magazines and newspapers worrying about whether the Internet/Facebook/email, etc is leading to increased physical isolation between people. Is all this electronic communication coming at the expense of one-to-one real connections between people and undermining our physical communities?
From where I’m sitting, just the opposite seems to be the case.
* City wide – Here on Village14 and on the Tab blog, daily discussion of local Newton issues seems to help engage citizens in all sorts of local issues that we may not otherwise know about or pay attention to me. It certainly works that way for me. Likewise the city web site, Andrea Downs’ “Muni-Wonk” digest, various organizations email newsletters help people follow the issues, meetings, etc. that they’re interested in. Anytime I turn up at some real world meeting in Newton, there’s always a sizable contingent of attendees who are regular readers and/or contributors to the city blogs. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
* Neighborhoods – Most villages in the city have some combination of Facebook page, email newsletter, Google Group, etc that keep neighbors connected. Here in my neighborhood, the Upper Falls News has over and over again helped recruit volunteers to help with all sorts of neighborhood activities – everything from the Hemlock Gorge cleanups, to the Feast of The Falls, to NewtonServes projects. Once those neighbors turn up for one of these events, they make lasting real-world connections with new neighbors and friends. Aside from these sort of organizational benefits, these neighborhood forums also link old-timers with newcomers and provide a way for neighbors to share news, history, stories, etc.
* Projects – In organizing local projects it’s hard to imagine doing it without the aid of electronic communication. With no money and little effort it’s easy to now put together an email list/Facebook page/Google Group of neighbors interested in any particular project. Once one of these groups has the ability to communicate instantly among themselves, projects can take shape quickly with different people being involved as much or as little as their schedule or inclinations allow. My favorite example of this was the Eggcellent Breakfast that instantly materialized last spring one Sunday morning under Echo Bridge. An email went out, a crowd turned up, they all brought food and supplies, neighbors met neighbors for the first time and a fine neighborhood party materialized out of thin air.
* Personal – I’m inspired to write this morning because my family was dealing with a sudden medical emergency this weekend (don’t worry, all’s well now). I put a brief note on Facebook on Friday night about the situation. Aside from the many, many kind words from near and far, it inspired a number of real-world neighbors to contact us with practical offers of help as well as much-appreciated treats being delivered to our door (cookies, Irish bread, mmmm).
So rather than the electronic communication undermining real world connections, mostly what I’m seeing is the electronic bolsters the physical connections.
What’s your experience, your thoughts?