Residents of Burlington’s New North End have been reporting on Front Porch Forum break-ins and scams targeting the elderly this past week. Looks like one FPF member has found a solution…
Just another voice to add to the neighborhoods re. the shoveling robber. On Monday, the 28th, a man approached our home on Grey Meadow Drive. My husband was in the backyard and Odin, our 22 lb Shihtzu was with him playing ball. Odie took off barking like the fierce Tibetan Temple guard dog he is and next we know he was in front barking furiously while chasing a man who was running for life, out of our open garage. He had expletives for our good good dog while yelling to us “I only was trying to shovel!”…. well, we knew him for what he was! These are hard times for many people…so neighborhood watches and neighborly communication about these events are good prevention. Also recommended: get a fierce Tibetan Shihtzu: small but fierce!!
Pew’s new report, “Social Isolation and New Technology: How the internet and mobile phones impact Americans’ social networks,” really is required reading for those interested in the intersection of local community building and online tools. (See other posts for additional points: one and two.)
One of the most interesting sections vis-a-vis Front Porch Forum concerns neighborhood-level online offerings…
A small number of Americans – 4% (N=103) – reported that they belonged to a neighborhood email list or internet discussion forum for their neighborhood… Although this suggests that only a small fraction of neighborhoods are using the internet for local communication and information sharing, those who do adopt this technology benefit from high levels of neighborhood engagement.
Well… this is huge. If reliable, this is more evidence in support of what we’ve seen with Front Porch Forum. People join FPF often to get some direct result (“Seeking lost cat!”) and along the way meet more nearby neighbors (online, via phone and/or face-to-face). This often seems to awaken more interest and awareness in local goings-on, and FPF postings from neighbors fuel the fire (“Park clean-up this Sat.”). Over time, this resident becomes a citizen, engaged in the civic life of his/her community.
Indeed, one independent survey of FPF users found 93% of respondents claiming increased civic engagement since signing up for the service. You can see why FPF fans often ask “how can we get Front Porch Forum in all neighborhoods everywhere?”
In trying to digest the conclusions and supporting evidence presented in “Social Isolation and New Technology: How the internet and mobile phones impact Americans’ social networks,” I’m getting a little carsick. It’s a great ride, but I’m having trouble with some of the unexpected hairpin turns.
The authors of this Pew study start with broad conclusions that social isolation in the United States isn’t so bad and the internet, mobile phones and online social networks are essentially making it better. Then, reading on, whiplash approaches from statements like these…
- Users of social networking services are 30% less likely to know their neighbors.
- Users of social networking services are 26% less likely to have used neighbors as a source of companionship.
- With the exception of those who use instant messaging, internet users are 26% less likely to have received small services (e.g., household chores, shopping, repairs, house-sat, lent tools or supplies) from neighbors.
- Internet users are 40% less likely to have been cared for, or had a member of their family cared for, by a neighbor. And, users of social networking services are 39% less likely than other internet users, or 64% less likely than those who do not use the internet, to have received family care from a neighbor.
- Internet users who are frequent users at work are 57% less likely to borrow money from neighbors.
Other points from the Pew study to consider…
Do you know the names of the neighbors who close to you, or not?
- 40% Yes, know all or most
- 30% Yes, know some
- 30% Do not know any
- Apartment dwellers are 60% less likely than home dwellers to know at least some of their neighbors.
- Those who are married or cohabitating are 31% more likely to know their neighbors.
- The likelihood of knowing at least some neighbors increases 3% for every year of age.
- Residential stability, the longer one lives in any one place increases the odds of knowing neighbors; 6% per year.
- The odds that women know at least some neighbors are 41% higher than for men.
- Those with larger, core networks are more likely to know neighbors. The odds are 19% higher per core tie in their network.
- The odds of knowing at least some neighbors are 50% lower for African Americans and 43% less for those of other races, in comparison to white Americans.
And this chart is very interesting (although it calls into question the whole notion of people self-reporting, given the difference between the responses to the two versions of the question)…
More interesting survey results…
- Bloggers are 72% more likely to belong to a local group.
- Those who frequently access the internet at work are 49% more likely to go to a non-fastfood restaurant, 35% more likely to visit a community center, 21% more likely to visit a public park, and 71% more likely to go to a bar.
- However, frequent internet users at work were 26% less likely to visit a library.
- Those who contribute to a blog are 61% more likely to go to a public park than internet users who do not blog.
- Users of social networking websites are 40% more likely to visit a bar, but 36% less likely to visit a religious institution.
- Users of instant messaging are 21% less likely to visit a library than those who do not use IM.
Thanks to Steven Clift for encouraging me to take a closer look at the recent Pew study “Social Isolation and New Technology: How the internet and mobile phones impact Americans’ social networks.” This work, undertaken by U. Penn. well-credentialed researchers, really digs into its central question.
However, like much of social “science,” one has to read it with an open mind. Some of Pew’s results run counter to those in other well-respected studies, and we’ll likely see other viewpoints supported by additional studies in the near future.
For example, as reported by Olds and Schwartz and others…
… a simple but compelling fact from the General Social Survey: in the past twenty years, the number of Americans who have talked to no one about something of importance to them during the previous six months has skyrocketed. That number is now a quarter of the population.
However, the new Pew study says…
We find that the extent of social isolation has hardly changed since 1985, contrary to concerns that the prevalence of severe isolation has tripled since then. Only 6% of the adult population has no one with whom they can discuss important matters or who they consider to be “especially significant” in their life.
So… 25% or 6%? Or some other fraction? Is social isolation in this country skyrocketing or holding steady?
Did the two surveys ask the same questions to similar population samples in the same way? Doubtful. Do the parties involved have special interests at play that may inadvertently steer the results toward a desired conclusion? Likely… we’re all human. (Here’s the Pew authors’ take.)
With the title “Noise in the ‘Hood: Why is hyperlocal news so terrible?” Slate’s Mark Gimein aims to provoke with his recent article. He derides EveryBlock.com, Topix.com, Outside.in and Examiner.com, while praising AOL’s Patch. Of the former, he writes…
The reality of the sites, though, is a scary lesson in just how dreary the local news outlook is. The new local ventures are designed to deliver more news with fewer resources. In fact, they deliver less. That in itself is not a surprise, but just how much less is a shock for anyone who bothers to actually look at what they offer…
So what we see in the local news efforts is something like the creepy apocalypse of a 1950s science fiction story, in which, with the people gone, computers take over the few tasks that remain to be done in the barren landscape, hoping by algorithms to take the bits of local information that are out there and put them together into sites that can be built on the cheap.
And why this writer likes Patch…
… what distinguishes it is that Patch actually has a live local writer/editor for each local site. Think about that for a second: The sites run by media companies, such as Topix and EveryBlock, are the ones that hope to take people out of the news gathering process, while the one that’s backed by the onetime Google ad guy is putting them back in.
Mark was successful in his provocation… several of the targets in his piece responded in the comments, as well as other well-informed folks.
My view… the aggregators that Mark singles out are valiant well-moneyed efforts, but they hold little interest to me personally. While they could serve as a helpful starting point when trying to plug into a given locale, once I know good sources of information for a community, I no longer need the aggregators. At that point, I’ll just go straight to the sources themselves… most likely locally owned and operated sources. But I’m sure aggregators can be of great value to others… traveling salespeople, researchers/writers/students, tourists, etc.
Also, what’s the difference between USAToday and a funky local weekly… or a well-established (if now struggling) daily? Even when traveling, I prefer to find local newspapers over picking up USAToday. Something about the aggregators seems more like Home Depot, McDonalds and Starbucks than local hardware stores, diners and coffee shops. I realize most of America is squarely in the homogenization camp… so maybe the aggregators will do as well as the big boxes and chains.
David Gershon does great work at the local level all over the world. Now this piece on the Huffington Post…
I just finished reading The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the 21st Century (earlier post about it) and I recommend it to anyone interested in community in the United States.
The authors, Harvard clinical psychiatry professors and husband and wife, Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz, put forth a compelling thesis. We see evidence of many of their points through our work on Front Porch Forum. From their summary…
We began with a simple but compelling fact from the General Social Survey: in the past twenty years, the number of Americans who have talked to no one about something of importance to them during the previous six months has skyrocketed. That number is now a quarter of the population. In all the debates about how socially connected we are to one another as a nation, that fact stands out. Whatever the average connectedness might be (and there is convincing evidence that average connectedness has also declined), a socially isolated core has now grown too large to be ignored.
We then explored the cultural and psychological factors that currently shape so many small but life-altering choices that push people in the direction of greater disconnection. We described both a push and a pull. The push is the increasing franticness of daily life, which makes one want to step back whenever possible to reduce the deafening background noise. The pull is the American ideal of the self-reliant loner-hero, which can make stepping back feel like a badge of superiority.
Next, we examined the effects that stepping back has on an individual. We found that the experience of social exclusion, seemingly so petty, is in fact so powerful, so deeply embedded in both neurobiology and personal experience, that it takes hold and starts to reshape a person’s feelings, thinking and behavior — even when the individual has unknowingly left him- or herself out by small steps back. We also found that once people have left themselves out, it is very hard to find a way back in, party because a set of slightly paranoid feelings take over and people stop trying.
Finally, we looked at the consequences of social disconnection, which turn out to be both extensive and remarkably diverse. Social isolation reduces happiness, health, and longevity. It increases aggression. It increases substance abuse. It correlates with increasing rates of violent crime. It probably reduces the effectiveness of democratic government. And it squanders the world’s resources in environmentally damaging ways.
And they write in some detail about technology…
In our drift apart, is technology part of the solution or part of the problem?
They cite research supporting each view… some in direction opposition to the other’s findings. They also discuss the richness of face-to-face interaction at a brain-science level… different things happen in our heads when talking with a friend a foot or two away, then when using a technological connection. They also make some interesting points about online porn as it relates to all this. And more…
Here are two intriguing bits of information: customers of online dating services go out with less than 1% of people whose profiles they study, while participants of speed-dating events go out with more than one in ten of the people they meet… “The people at these [speed-dating] events realize that there aren’t an infinite number of possibilities. If they want to get anything out of the evening, they have to settle for less than perfection. They also can’t help but notice that they have competition.”
The authors also cite Barry Schwartz’s “The Tyranny of Choice” that the assumptions that more choice is better and people with more choices are happier are wrong. Basically, online social networking can offer infinite choices, and too many choices tends to lead to unhappiness for us humans.
Lots more packed into this little volume. Again, I recommend reading and thinking about this book.
From ebebee crafts blog…
I read a posting in Front Porch Forum just now about a collection of warm hats and gloves and socks for homeless people on December 21st, which is apparently National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, in honor of those who have died homeless. An important cause! I passed a guy sitting in a doorway today on Church Street, and I felt really bad that I didn’t have any spare change to give him. It’s really cold out there tonight! I hope everyone has found space in a shelter or somewhere else warm to sleep.
So, anyway, it inspired me to start knitting a wool hat to bring to the collection drive. I’ve completed a couple of inches already. Plenty of time before the 21st to finish it. Maybe I’ll go buy some wool socks from the “sox market” too. And Uncommon Grounds, where you’re supposed to bring donations, is also giving out free coffee, which is really nice of them. And they have yummy coffee.
So, yeah. It feels good to be inspired by this, and I hope that the hat I make will end up on someone’s head and that it will keep their ears warm.
Here’s the original post…
Give the Gift of Warmth and Get a FREE Hot Coffee! Across the nation, December 21st is recognized as the National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. This day serves as a time to remember our neighbors who have died homeless during the year.
On this first day of winter and the longest day of the year, the Community Health Center of Burlington (CHCB) and Uncommon Grounds have partnered to take action and to not only remember those who have died, but to help ensure that those who continue to struggle with homelessness have at least a warm pair of socks, gloves and a hat.
Bring in a new pair of warm/wool socks, gloves, or a hat to Uncommon Grounds, located at 42 Church Street, between 7 am – 8 pm on Monday, December 21st and receive a free small coffee. Hot, freshly brewed coffee, donated by Uncommon Grounds, will also be served to CHCB’s homeless patients during the day at the Safe Harbor Clinic.
Please take the time on Monday when you drive down Main Street and see the big purple ribbon on the memorial tree on the lawn of the Fletcher Free Library to pause and remember those who have died homeless this year; and if you’re on Church Street finishing up your holiday shopping, please stop by Uncommon Grounds to donate a new pair of socks/gloves/hat and warm up with a free cup of coffee.
For more information about the Community Health Center or their Homeless Health Care services visit http://www.chcb.org Thank you!
How do you compare what Facebook does with Twitter, YouTube, or our own Front Porch Forum? Apples and oranges in many ways. Dan Schultz at MediaShift Idea Lab provides a framework for thinking about this today. Here’s his chart…