If you’re interested in Front Porch Forum’s work, take a look at this new article by Marc J. Dunkelman published by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture… Next-Door Strangers: The Crisis of Urban Anonymity…
The British anthropologist Robin Dunbar spent years researching isolated societies, both past and present. He discovered a remarkable similarity across geography and context. Human societies, he found, naturally sort themselves across three distinct levels of intimacy. The first, and most intimate, Dunbar labeled bands. These are the people who sleep together in overnight camps and know one another intimately. They rarely number more than a few dozen together. At the other end of the intimacy spectrum are tribes, groupings that live under the broadest and thinnest common banner. Fellow tribe members may share in certain rituals and traditions, but they rarely know one another personally.
Situated squarely between bands and tribes are what Dunbar termed villages. A village, generally speaking, marks a collection of bands, and groups of villages constitute a tribe. Correspondingly, fellow villagers are rarely as intimate with one another as they are with fellow members of their band, but they are more intimate than they would be with outside members of their tribe. Villagers do not necessarily know one another personally but they are often able to converse about something specific. They’d know if someone’s mother were ill, or if their child had achieved an outstanding feat. Upon seeing one another, their conversation would flow from a common frame of reference.
What held the American community together through its first four migrations was a very specific and shared sociological architecture. Colonial villages, frontier towns, urban tenements, and even some first-ring suburbs were classic examples of Dunbarian villages in that they were suffused by familiar, but non-intimate, relationships. The vicissitudes of ordinary life made it almost inevitable that people who lived near one another would be socially connected. It wasn’t just, as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s, that Americans were unusually likely to join voluntary associations. The demands of democratic government the fact that power flowed up from the grassroots prompted similarly situated strangers to get to know one another in pursuit of the common good.
Today’s reinvigorated cities boast much of what made urban America so vibrant during its heyday. The cultural amenities, the coffeehouse culture, the vast diversity, and even the convenience of public transit have emerged in places for which, in the mid-1970s, conventional wisdom predicted continued decline. But one feature distinguishes today’s urban meccas from those of eras past. The core sociological building block that Jane Jacobs celebrated in The Death and Life of Great American Cities the Dunbarian village instantiated in an urban neighborhood has all but collapsed.
FPF helps neighbors connect and build community. We accomplish that by hosting a statewide network of online neighborhood forums designed specifically to increase social capital among neighbors. About half of Vermont households participate on their local FPF. Learn more here.
Front Porch Forum is hiring! We are seeking a Ruby on Rails Developer to join our team. This position is full-time and based in Burlington, Vermont. Be part of a world-class team of software engineers, and help us fulfill our community-building mission. Check out the details and apply here.
Iran’s “Blogfather,” Hossein Derakhshan, in a recent interview on the NiemanStoryboard…
“The decline of the web in favor of social media entails grim consequences. Hyperlinks were the founding principle of the web; it secured a diversity, nonlinearity, decentralization and interactivity, which made the web so powerful. But social media’s very philosophy and monetization strategy, or the stream, cannot be friendly to hyperlinks, since they do not want their users to leave their space. This new environment, in addition to the currently dominant algorithms, which favors popularity and now-ness rather than diversity and quality, is worse than television in its potential damage to representative democratic societies, where majority is supposed to take informed decisions without jeopardizing minorities. The rise of identity politics and intolerance for diversity is directly linked to the current form of the internet. This is the deepest shock of this transition to me since my release. This shift from what I call books-internet to TV-internet.”
Unlike some other social media platforms, Front Porch Forum doesn’t aim to lure people in and hold their attention 24/7. FPF, for many Vermonters, is a 10-minute-a-day habit that leads to more face-to-face conversations with neighbors… and to friendlier, more informed, and more resilient local communities. Hyperlinks in FPF postings are an important part of that.
“I believe that access to the financial records of our presidential candidates will help voters decide whether the candidate has a conflict of interest. When I arrived at this realization, it was too late to add this idea to the Town’s warned articles. I am using Front Porch Forum to give my neighbors advance notice of a motion that I hope will be discussed and passed at Town Meeting during the new or other business portion. The motion highlights the efforts already underway in our State Legislature (H. 243 and S. 77) and in the U.S. Congress (S. 26). Here is the proposed motion:
“‘The citizens of Jericho, Vermont support the efforts of our state and federal legislators regarding proposed laws that require the disclosure of federal tax returns before a presidential candidate’s name can be place on the primary and general election ballots and, upon passage, we request that our town employees and/or officials convey the vote to the appropriate persons in our state and federal legislative bodies.'”
• Bill, Jericho FPF
Town Meeting Day is March 7 this year (statewide… actual meeting dates vary by town)… how are you using your local FPF?
“A couple of months ago, a community member in my town posted on our Front Porch Forum an invitation for neighbors to gather in questioning how we can become more organized, informed and better able to rapidly respond to current social issues. From that one post, about 40 people showed up. We squeezed into the old South Newfane School House and began an important conversation. Out of this gathering, we are now defining the contours of what we want to do as a group and how to effectively connect with other grassroots efforts in our state. At the last meeting we invited our local legislators and many showed up. FPF has been instrumental by creating the infrastructure that has allowed such a level of individual activism and organization to occur.”
• Heidi, Newfane Townshend FPF
When it’s time to get organized in your community, start with FPF.
“I would like to start a Farmers Market catering to Belvidere and the surrounding area this summer. I am looking for volunteers to help. Those who volunteer would have a free space for the season. I am also, of course, looking for a space. So if you have a field or large parking lot that could be used, please contact me. I’m looking to start in June. If you can help, please contact me.”
• Jill, Cambridge Front Porch Forum
Many farmers markets have used FPF to get organized and launched in Vermont. How about one in your town?
… social media represents the ultimate ascendance of television over other media.
I’ve been warning about this since November 2014, when I was freed from six years of incarceration in Tehran, a punishment I received for my online activism in Iran. Before I went to prison, I blogged frequently on what I now call the open Web: it was decentralized, text-centered, and abundant with hyperlinks to source material and rich background. It nurtured varying opinions. It was related to the world of books.
Then for six years I got disconnected; when I left prison and came back online, I was confronted by a brave new world. Facebook and Twitter had replaced blogging and had made the Internet like TV: centralized and image-centered, with content embedded in pictures, without links.
Like TV it now increasingly entertains us, and even more so than television it amplifies our existing beliefs and habits. It makes us feel more than think, and it comforts more than challenges. The result is a deeply fragmented society, driven by emotions, and radicalized by lack of contact and challenge from outside…
One reason why Front Porch Forum is text-based.
“Thanks to all who generously offered to assist me with my small paint job. I’ve now got it covered. I’m astounded at the Front Porch Forum as a network for our communities, but also with the wealth of talent and energy it represents. I feel beyond grateful!”
• Nancy, Randolph FPF
How is your local FPF? Read and post to it today!
“Dear friends – A few days ago, I posted on our Front Porch Forum asking if anyone might be willing to share some fresh sage leaves with us — Jasmine and I were making food for friends and I’d run out of fresh leaves. I thought maybe one or two folks might be willing to help.
“Fifteen of you replied — several within minutes — offering to share your abundance with us. I’m sure that several more FPF readers have been thinking “oh, I need to email that guy about the sage plant!”
“It was really touching to see people reaching out with practical help.
“I’ve been feeling pretty despondent about the polarization I’ve seen in our nation over the last months and, particularly, the last week. It’s clear that we have a lot of reaching out to do, and a lot of working to understand each other, if we’re to get through the next parts of our nation’s history.
“I believe that connections between real people are absolutely critical to finding consensus and building resilience, and that those connections thrive in an atmosphere where people share and help each other.
“Thank you, friends, for reminding me that I live in one of those places.”
• Hollis, Burlington neighborhood FPF
“Thank you to the dozen or so neighbors who emailed personal notes of appreciation for my post on last week’s Really Big Thing that happened.
“I take Front Porch Forum literally for its ‘front porch-ness.’ So when a Really Big Thing happens — like a storm, crash, or national tragedy — the first place I want to go is the front porch. To look around the neighborhood and ask, ‘How’re you doing? Everybody in your house okay?’ And if possible, offer any solace or help.
“I understand why some folks wouldn’t want national politics on our local Front Porch Forum. But last Tuesday’s election left many in our community reeling.
“I think it’s important to recognize this and resist the urge to limit what can and cannot be said here. If for no other reason than to support our neighbors who might have been left feeling particularly vulnerable.”
• James, posted on a Burlington neighborhood FPF