When did we all go inside?

One thing that always struck me when I visited Asia last year, was that so much of daily life was carried out outside of the home. There’s always lots of cooking, eating, socialising etc taking place in the streets; sitting just outside of kitchen doorways, in back yards & alleyways etc. There’s often groups of men and women talking at volume as they go about chores and such.

I just assumed it was something that was always a cultural difference between East and West, to be honest. Beyond the initial observation the thought hadn’t really gone anywhere else.

Then, as I was having a look at a post about street life in London in 1876 from one of my favourite sites, and it struck me that it wasn’t always the case in the West; this notion that we’re just more indoor people.











So, I got to thinking about when it was that we moved inside so completely? And why? And how good or bad was it for society as a whole? Whereas in China, Malaysia et al, groups of people milling about outside is seen as par for the course. Here, it would more than likely be treated with suspicion, and perhaps fear.

There’s something a little bit sad about how remote we’ve all got from our closest neighbours, isn’t there.

Has going indoors kept us from being the social creatures we naturally are? Social media no doubt makes it easier for us to feel social – to have the kind of random chit-chat conversations that we might previously have shared with our neighbour, over the back wall, as we hung out our washing. But is it actually making us more social?

Technology and social media has apparently had a¬†positive¬†impact upon people’s connections with their local neighbourhoods – perhaps retraining us to be more open to social interaction with those beyond our immediate circle of friends and family.

I can’t help but wonder though, if it’s a double-edged sword. While we’re becoming more social, we’re also becoming more reliant of technology as the facilitator of these social interactions. We’re perhaps becoming more social only on a superficial level. It’s hard to say.

I don’t know the answers, clearly. But it’s a question that keeps popping up in my mind. If it were more natural for us to speak and interact in a tangible, “real world” way with more people around us, not just our small group of family and friends, would we be happier? How can we better leverage social media and technology to encourage more face-to-face social activity? To better connect with those around us and help us to feel more a part of our local neighbourhoods and communities? To give us back a sense of belonging that is currently in decline?

One to ponder over a pot of tea anyway.

3 Responses

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  1. I’ve often thought this – but also that the more services you can buy (cleaners, house sitters, dog sitters, nannies etc) the less you need to rely on the people who live around you – you can just pay a stranger to do it.

    My parent’s neighbours used to look after me occasionally if my mum needed to pop out etc. That was considered normal and my mum would do the same for them, or drop their kids at school on the way to mine. I wouldn’t say they were friends but they helped each other – and still do.

    I wouldn’t dream of asking any of my neighbours for anything like that or to borrow a ladder etc. I would be too embarrassed. But I will happily pay services to look after my son etc and other services like fixing things, looking after my house etc. The service industry makes us need the people who live around us less and less.

    I think part of the thing you are talking about is that now we are too embarrassed to chit chat with neighbours, people in our building etc, but we think nothing of chit chatting with total strangers and making friends with them online. I think it is because it is low pressure… A neighbour who does you a favour can expect a favour in return. A twitter chum is unlikely to ask you to look after their cat while they are away and if they did, and you were troubled by it, you could just bluff it off pretty easily without causing offence or having to see them every morning as you leave for work.

    But I do think social media makes us more social, especially people like me who are actually pretty shy in real life…

    Allie 19 February 2012 at 2:07 pm Permalink
    • I would agree. I guess, I’m wondering what made us stop talking to our neighbours etc? Probably isn’t one single answer; more a combination of things.

      Social media played a huge role in helping me to settle into Ireland and meet new people. But I do wonder if, generally, it gives the illusion of connection more than anything genuinely meaningful. And what could be done to make connections on a more genuine level. Beyond things like “Tweet-ups” etc.

      It would be great to think that we could get back to being able to ask our neighbours for a cup of sugar or even trust them with our spare, “in case of emergency” key like the neighbours of my childhood would have done. Not sure social media is necessarily the answer there – there’s only so much a tool can do. It’s what you decide to use those tools to build, I guess. And how to use them.

      Ooh, I’m very ponderous today! :)

      curlydena 19 February 2012 at 2:26 pm Permalink
  2. In my part of town (Stoneybatter), people’s front doors would have been open all day every day up until the late eighties. ‘Neighbouring’ was part and parcel of life round here, with people bringing their furniture out onto the street so they could sit and chat and socialise!

    These days, even the smallest gesture of neighbourliness (in urban areas at any rate) seems extraordinary. I love the idea behind Streetfeast, though – using social media to foster offline community has benefits for both younger and older generations, I reckon.

    Catherine 19 February 2012 at 7:53 pm Permalink

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