Email, texting and social networking sites like Facebook and My Space have created a society in which face-to-face interaction almost seems to have become obsolete. All across the world, people don’t have to be in the same hemisphere, let alone the same room, to stay in touch.
Some may see this as an advantage, others as the breakdown of real social connection. No matter your view, electronic communication has become indelibly entrenched in our everyday lives.
The Carver Terrace neighborhood in Tempe can attest to the value of electronic communication following an event that occurred recently.
The situation was not one that anybody wants to experience: returning home in the middle of a quiet weekday afternoon to find that your home has been burglarized. Jewelry, golf clubs, even the vacuum cleaner, were missing. It has to be one of the most frustrating moments a person can face, not to mention frightening and infuriating. A sense of helplessness is likely to wash over most of us, a sense of violation penetrating to the core.
Although none of us wants to find out how we would react in such a situation, the residents of the Carver Terrace neighborhood mobilized and acted immediately.
Using a combination of telephone tree and group email, nearly the entire neighborhood was alerted of the break-in within hours.
The stream of back-and-forth support and suggestions was orchestrated, at least initially, by a single email alert sent by neighborhood organizer Jill Cohen. Support for the victim poured in from all corners of the neighborhood. Suggestions, ideas and general well wishes were flying through cyberspace.
Considering that this is a neighborhood with no homeowners association and that the entire response was gathered by a few individuals who realize the importance of keeping a neighborhood close, it proved to be an impressive organizational feat.
Through some great police work, observant and helpful neighbors—and a little luck—most of the stolen goods have been recovered and suspects taken into custody.
There is little doubt that, without the people-to-people connection, the conclusion would have been different. Some years ago I remember hearing that the automatic garage-door opener ultimately led to the death of close-knit neighborhoods.
Opening the garage from the comfort of your car, pulling in and shutting the door behind you leaves little opportunity to say hello to the next-door neighbor.
Now, with a 21st century spin, the moral we’ve heard any times before has new relevance: Knowing your neighbors is important, whether it’s meeting face-to-face or exchanging conversation across our new electronic superhighways.
In a perfect world, I’d hope it could be both.