Community Identity

Driving to work I like to listen to NPR, or Modest Mouse turned up to 11. But usually NPR. It makes me feel s-m-r-t.  Yesterday on Morning Edition Steve Inskeep interviewed their own editorial director of digital media, Dick Meyer about his new book Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium. It was fantastic. I highly recommend everyone go listen to it, I’ll wait. It’s seven minutes 19 seconds that you’ll be happy you gave up.

I’ve pulled out a little of the conversation (this took me about 7 rewinds, so enjoy it)

The cultural revolution of the 1960s and the technological revolution that followed set people adrift; they can’t count on communities … People had a community identity.

I am adrift. I am an only child. Peter is one of two children. His brother and parents live 1000 miles away. We live in a town near the one I spent my “formative” years. There’s been so much growth in this area in the last 20 years that it’s not the same place in which I grew up.

The town I live in does not evoke a community identity. In fact it evokes very little response – it’s a bedroom community, it’s completely non-offensive. My neighborhood doesn’t have a community identity, it’s another beige subdivision. My block does not have a sense of community. We are more fortunate than other blocks, in that we all know each other’s first names, but last names? Forget about it.

My kids go to the same daycare as one of the neighbor families. It’s brought our two families closer together; we’ve had dinner at each other’s homes. When she suggested that we put each other on the emergency contact form at school I was dumbfounded. Why, of course we should do that. It makes total sense. But it didn’t occur to me. I was embarrassed by that. I’m the emergency contact for some friends, for kids whose schools I don’t know the location. To rely on your neighbor is such a profound act. The reliance builds community.

I believe it takes a village to raise a child. Every time my children get love, guidance and reprimanded by our friends I’m happy to see my village at work. I have a community. I am part of a community. I cannot simply fall off this planet without someone noticing. And for that, I am grateful. But I do not have a community identity. Or maybe I do and I cannot articulate it? Totally possible.

What was the technological breaking point for a community? Was it the telephone? Now you could maintain relationships with people from your geographic past, you didn’t have to befriend your neighbor because you were still friends with your old neighbor. Was it the television? No need to go outside and visit with your neighbors, you could watch your stories and feed some of the socialization feelings there. Was it the computer? The Internet? Video games? The never being able to be incommuncado?

Where did our communities break? How do we rebuild them?

And yes, y’all are my online community. But I’m not sensing that I can call you to bail my ass out of jail. You know, since you’re allowed one phone call – not one email or tweet. Not that I twitter, but if I did, that would totally be something worth tweeting about.

As a total aside, I did learn from looking at NPR’s webiste that when I have my professional anchor picture taken I should sit with my right side facing the camera and look straight at the camera. Or at least that’s how Mr Inskeep and Meyer do it. Regardless, they’re no Anderson Cooper. I was once in the CNN Center and for a brief moment considered making out with his larger than life size portrait on the wall. I remembered that I wasn’t a 12 year old girl alone in her bedroom with her Corey Feldman poster. So I just pet it a little as we walked by.

11 smart people left their mark:

  1. pamela, 6. August 2008, 9:24

    Mmmmm…..Anderson Cooper. Yummy with whipped cream.

    Your neighborhood situation is the polar opposite of mine. I live in a house that was built in 1860, on a short street, in a tiny, rural village of less than 500. My in-laws live two doors down. On my street there live two and three generations of at least three different families. It’s completely not as inbred as it sounds. They’re all clever and hard-working and lovely. Everybody knows everyone else’s names, first, last, and probably middle names, too. We all know where everyone works, how to reach them at work if, say, the house is burning down, or a strange car is parked in their driveway. My phone rings like crazy if my kids are spotted someplace other than my yard. When a neighbor is sick or has ‘stuff’ going on, dinners, pies, cookies are left on the front porch.

    When I moved back here (I had lived in a fairly good-sized city out of state), I was flipping because I didn’t want everybody to be all up in my biz-nass. But I love it here. And it didn’t take me a long time to gain an appreciation for neighbors, in the real, old-fashioned sense of the word.

    pamelas last blog post..good news, people

  2. Sara, 6. August 2008, 14:13

    I once heard that air conditioning was responsible for the death of communities. During the summer months when it’s hot, people in the days of yore would go outside, sit on their porches, and spy on one another. Er, gossip. I mean, catch up and bond. Now, everyone stays inside where it’s cool and tolerable. Don’t know if it’s true, but could certainly be a contributing factor, no?

    Saras last blog post..Driver’s Edge Messenbaugh Arrives!

  3. Catherine, 6. August 2008, 14:22

    Pamela – I think I would struggle with everyone being in my biz-nass. It sounds as though you’ve found a balance though.

    Sara – A/C hadn’t occurred to me, but you’re right. Maybe also the attached garage? I know the previous owners of our house would pull into their garage and close it before anyone could say peep to them. They didn’t have to be seen if they didn’t want to.

    Modern day conveniences are making us more silo’d.

  4. sher, 6. August 2008, 16:40

    anderson cooper is yummy, indeed. but i think i read somewhere (and i hope i’m wrong, if only because it wreaks havoc with my personal little reverie) that he plays for the other team, if you know what i mean. not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    a new family moved in to my neighborhood last year. we’ve befriended them, and a funny thing has happened: when i’m running late because of my medical treatments, she gets my kids and hangs onto them til i get home. when she’s running late at work, i take her kids. we took care of their hamsters while they were out of town. it’s the most wonderful thing. some people probably just naturally have this; i never did until last year.

    i don’t have family nearby, and in times of trouble, we’ve always struggled. i’m beginning to like this community thing that i once feared. i really, truly am.

    shers last blog rain

  5. Lynn, 6. August 2008, 17:20

    We lived away from our families for 10 years, 5 of those with kids. We really had to search out good neighbors as that emergency back-up.

    Now that we live near our families, I’ve spoken to one neighbor and that was to tell him “nice to meet you, but could you not come into our house uninvited?” He really isn’t that nice anyway.

    I feel like we are actually nice people who want to get to know our neighbors but our neighbors are not people I want to get to know now. Is it elitism? Or I just don’t want to strike a relationship with the neighbors that walk around outside half naked at 10pm taking on their phone? Or the ones that let their pre-teens out til 10pm in their pool, waking my kids up?

    I think it’s also dependent on geography. In Texas, we had an AMAZING set of neighbors who baled my ass out during “husband with vertigo” episode. California… ummm.. different story.

    Something else I noticed… I always searched out people, but no one ever searches out for us to establish that relationship. Hmmm… strike the comment above. Maybe we aren’t the nicest, maybe we look scary and tall?

  6. Pamela, 6. August 2008, 20:40

    Ooh, the half-naked neighbor. I have That Guy across the street. I had blocked it out of my mind, in favour of the lovely people, until Lynn mentioned hers. He has to be at least 60, and obviously spends money, lots and lots of money, on tanning. He has a beer gut. And a bald head with the fly-aways on top. And *cringes* a speedo.

    Excuse me, but I need to go barf now.

    Pamelas last blog post..good news, people

  7. Catherine, 6. August 2008, 20:48

    Sher – that is totally what I am talking about! You and your neighbor are better off because you watch out for one another. We all need someone to have our back. And not just friends, but those that are geographically close.

    Pamela & Lynn – thank you for reminding me that I am indeed fortunate, no naked people on my block. Although I do think one neighbor built a love shack in their backyard.

  8. shauna, 7. August 2008, 6:14

    anderson cooper is definitely gay, but who cares? he’s totally adorable. and he wins bonus points with me for being the son of gloria vanderbilt. i grew up wearing her jeans. you understand, not her ACTUAL jeans, but jeans that she designed and had mass produced for retail sale. nevermind.

  9. Joy, 9. August 2008, 8:58

    You’re right about communities…I know some neighbors but here in little India (I mean Plano), we have a very multi-cultural environment of many Indians and Chinese and they stick together. Now, my mom lives one street away and being who she is, she knows ALL her neighbors well and for awhile, played the organ for the Chinese church nearby where she was the only non-Chinese around. She’s bold that way.

    Fortunately, the Chinese and Indians are a modest crowd so no public, un-wanted nudity here.

    Once, when I lived in Florida, a beautiful girl down the street used to wash her car wearing a thong and she was someone you wouldn’t mind seeing wearing a thong. In fact, she was a Hooter’s girl. The husbands in the neighborhood suddenly felt the urge to go on many errands and drive up and down the street to catch a glimpse of her. It was funny and irritating all at the same time. OK, mainly irritating…

    Joys last blog post..Check out this digi scrapbook I made on!

  10. Kelly O, 11. August 2008, 11:17

    I completely agree. When we lived in DC, there were always lots of friends and neighbors around who would all help each other out. I’ve been trying to cultivate that kind of relationship with my new neighbors ever since we moved to the suburbs, but I think I come off as stalky and weird, and maybe a little too desperate or something. Anyway, it’s not happening yet.

    Kelly Os last blog post..She’s setting herself up for a world of hurt

  11. Pink Asparagus » Interview with Wreke (Pingback), 18. September 2008, 7:11

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