TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Our Waste Howling 'Cyberness'

Our Waste Howling 'Cyberness'

Lisa Minter (
21 Feb 2005 10:44:57 -0800

Mourning the true camaraderie of neighborhood as my blog echoes into
the silence.

By Jerry Lanson

LEXINGTON, MASS. - Blogging, I've discovered, is about as stimulating
as singing to my refrigerator. The echo of my words dissolves quickly
into silence.

It may be that these words simply bore anyone dropping by. But I
suspect the lack of traffic to my new blog has more to do with the
fact that there are now millions of bloggers out there, pouring their
hearts out ... for the most part to themselves. And as they -- no, we --
spend more hours in front of computers, we take one more step in
estranging ourselves from what's left of local community.

Often I long for an earlier America, one I've seen more of in
historical photos than experienced in real life. It's an America of
concrete stoops and front porches, of town and city life where people
not only know neighbors by name, but take the time to talk with them.

My own family moved to the suburbs when I was 5. In the mid-'50s on
Long Island, we kids were allowed to roam and more often than not, a
game of tag or stickball went on in the middle of the street. Fights
occasionally broke out, and sometimes nasty ethnic slurs got thrown
around. Life was far from perfect. But it had a pulse. Today, in my
tony suburb of Lexington, Mass., few kids play in the street. Many
more are programmed for organized sports, organized music lessons,
organized study. If life is one long climb toward success, it's also
more isolated and fragmented.

And that's true for their parents too. Today's houses are a lot
bigger. But I suspect plenty of people get lost in all that extra
elbow room, rushing to their computer in the hope of connecting with

I, for one, am not convinced that the computer will ever be a terribly
useful tool for real, personal connections. When an MIT professor
created something called e-neighbors in my community a couple of years
ago, it was an experiment to see how a neighborhood, joined by
computer, would interact. I excitedly wrote to those signed on that I
love to play poker, bridge, and just about any other card game. No one
responded. Perhaps others in the neighborhood have become fast
friends. But from what I can tell, the whole network has provided just
one contribution -- a place to get tips on how to find a plumber, a
carpenter, a lawn mower, a tree surgeon. Fill in the blank.

Meanwhile, I still long for a regular card game, a lively cafe, a
place where individual expression is heard and seen in the flesh, not
tapped onto a screen and sent into cyberspace where it awaits someone
else wandering around in the wilderness. I don't believe the Internet
-- though it can introduce people -- ever offers true camaraderie. But I
doubt that contemporary neighborhoods do, either. People don't give
each other a chance.

After a recent snow, I walked my golden retriever, Casey, and passed
between two neighbors shoveling snow. On my right was an elderly man,
approaching 80. He clearly labored as he shoveled his walk. Across the
street, a young father, in his 30s, was putting the finishing touches
on his perfect snow-blower cleared walkway, which arced around the
front and side of his property. If he noticed the old fellow 25 feet
away, he never acknowledged him. He clearly hadn't offered to lend a

As I came back around the block, I exchanged greetings with the older

"Take your time," I advised him. "Don't overdo it."

"You're right about that," he responded.

The other man had left his snowblower standing by his front path and
gone inside.

Jerry Lanson is a professor of journalism at Boston's Emerson
College. His blog can be found at

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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I have noticed over the years, that
computers are _not quite_ the bill of goods that were sold to us when
'home computers' first came into vogue in the 1980's, or even when
they became still more popular in the middle/late 1990's. Maybe I am
just getting bored and depressed by it all. There are literally
thousands of blogs, and millions of URLs, most of which seem to be
ignored by almost everyone. Some, which claim to have thousands of
readers/users daily, I have never heard of. Some of the most heart-
breaking situations I have seen on the net involve young people who
sincerely believe that (a) they can get rich fast on the net, and
(b)probably more significant -- they can make new friends *in person*
through the chat rooms and the dating services. These kids send in
money to the dating/friendship services, along with their pictures
and personal details, find themselves really excited by their 'new
friend' (over the computer) and then when the actual meeting time
arrives, at best it is a total disappointment; at worst it is a total
fraud perpetrated on them. If you have ever seen the cartoon,
'Honesty on the Internet' then you know how things go. And regards
'making money fast on the internet', after twenty-plus years doing
this, I have barely started to get a grasp on making money in
internet publishing, to say nothing of making it fast. As the essay
'Informing Ourselves to Death' (in our archives from 1991) states it
very succinctly, I have not been encouraged by the new-found ease in
balancing my checkbook, organizing my recipe and other files, keeping
my appointments in order, or for that matter, making new friends and
influencing people. Do you think (as things are today on the net)
*this* is what the early pioneers had in mind for us a quarter century
later, or were they just talking to humor us? PAT]

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