The Internet Might Be Rotten but Your Neighborhood Doesn’t Have to Be
Posted on October 10, 2007
Filed Under Culture & Technology |
To those who have emailed me: I assure you that I am very much alive. I did not die in a tragic base jumping accident, I was not kidnapped by a Marxist rebel group and I have not (yet) been indicted by the Feds for racketeering and money laundering. I’ve just been really, really busy in First Life. But I figured it was time to put together a post just to keep my blogging skills alive, so without further delay…
I recently saw a news report on a simple Google Maps mashup service, RottenNeighbor.com. It bills itself as “the first real estate search engine of it’s kind that helps you find bad neighbors before you move.” RottenNeighbor.com is yet another prime example of how technology is impacting society and our interactions. While the service is far from taking over the world, the fact that it exists and is used reflects the increasing level of detachment we have from our neighbors and communities. It’s exactly what’s wrong with society and the Internet today.
Don’t get me wrong. Most of us will at some point find ourselves living near others whose lifestyles, values, etc. don’t jive with our own and there are truly “bad” neighbors who show a complete lack of disrespect for the people who live around them.
On one hand, I have little doubt that there is some evolutionary rationale for the negative feelings we often have towards our neighbors. In the past, being able to identify members of our own group (or groups friendly to our own) was a prerequisite for survival; the instinct to be suspicious of outsiders was a biological necessity. This certainly remains in our genetic makeup and in a highly mobile and diverse global society, it isn’t entirely surprising that we have more opportunity than ever to find ourselves being leery of people who don’t look like they’re part of our “group.”
On the other hand, RottenNeighbor.com reflects the disappointing level to which we are willing to spend time and energy speaking negatively of those we don’t like. Do we not have anything better to do? Are there not more productive things to do? Are we now incapable of resolving disputes without resorting to childish badmouthing? Are we so detached from our communities that we would rather complain about them than work to make them better?
Services like RottenNeighbor.com bring out the worst in us and serve as a positive feedback loop by encouraging negative social behaviors and giving the impression that these behaviors can serve some beneficial purpose. RottenNeighbor.com’s argument (or “value proposition”) is that real estate agents aren’t going to tell you about all the bad neighbors you’re going to encounter when they’re trying selling you a home.
Here’s an idea: if you are considering moving and want to know who your new neighbors would be, knock on their doors and introduce yourself to them. Engage in a face-to-face conversation. Listen to their stories. Tell them yours. It’s really that simple. No Internet connection required!
I’ve heard myths that there was once a time when a new family would move into the neighborhood and the neighbors would come over to introduce themselves, bringing along freshly-baked apple pies and warm greetings. I’m far too young to know if these myths have a basis in some past reality, but I do know that they could never be realized today. After all, who would want to log on to RottenNeighbor.com only to see that the new neighbor has complained about your inability to bake a decent apple pie?Print This Post
One Response to “The Internet Might Be Rotten but Your Neighborhood Doesn’t Have to Be”
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Actually, I was surprised by a very Norman Rockwellian experience when I moved into my neighborhood in Portland, OR in 2005: my new neighbors came over, introduced themselves, and brought me beer. I was surprised, as I had lived in Chicago for years, never knew my neighbors there, and (like you) thought those close-knit days are dead.
No pie, though — that part of America is dead.
And I resent you saying that you’re young — you’re spoiling my image of you as a crotchety old geezer.