Our house celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. (Okay, we did the celebrating with friends.) It is clear it was built for another time and another way of life. To make it modern toilets had to be added and the back deck had to be finished to provide a comfortable place to sit under a canopy of Morning Glory vines. The front porch remains as a mute reminder of the days of yore when people actually would sit on their porches and often visit with neighbors.
That time is no more. The world that produced the designs for these houses no longer exists and the front porch is only one of the artifacts it left behind. Modern urban living is nothing like small town living of a century ago. Then we were part of a community whether we liked it or not. One was born into the town one grew up in. One knew one’s neighbors from the earliest days of life and dealing with the folks on your block was a necessary part of life.
Modern life has atomized our society and we spend more time with friends and workmates than we ever do with neighbors today. Our social groups grow out of our schools, our jobs and our friends and where we used to look to neighbors for help we now look to social organizations. But neighbors, by their proximity, affect our lives both positively and negatively. We often need our neighbors’ cooperation, sometimes to pick up our papers when we’re away, sometimes to lower the sound on a TV or radio in the wee hours of the morning, and often to just keep an eye out for problems.
These sort of neighborly activities used to be a matter of course but in the present day, when we may not know our neighbors or even what they look like if their work schedules are other than the usual nine to five, these activities are harder to make happen. It’s taken years for me to meet our neighbors and several of them don’t want to be met or to have any sort of relationship. Proximity is not enough.
A new addition to the neighborly stakes is the internet. There are many sites but the one operating in our area (and around the country) is Next Door. This is a website which encourages postings about goings on in the neighborhood and allowing for communication between neighbors who no longer see each other on their porches.
I don’t think we’ve found our voice of neighborliness as a society yet but the internet is offering the opportunity for us to work at it. Lost dogs or cats, desired information about goods and services in the area, items for sale, announcements of various kinds, these are the subjects of internet neighborliness today. Add security alerts to that list and an approximation of the old community feeling can be achieved.
I like the idea of the internet neighborhood which is just another layer of existence on the actual physical neighborhood, but I still like talking to my neighbors in person. We live with our neighbors whether we acknowledge them or not and at the least they deserve a smile and nod in recognition that we share the space.
Robert Frost wrote about good fences making good neighbors and that will always be so for some people. For me, a good greeting goes a lot further down that road.