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By now you’ve likely heard of #PermitPatty, the woman who followed in a dubious line of meddling vigilantes and called authorities to question whether an 8-year-old black girl selling water to earn money for a trip to Disneyland needed a permit. She joins #BBQBecky, who called police on a group of black people barbecuing near Oakland’s Lake Merritt, and a frustratingly long list of white people who’ve called the cops on black people for nothing at all. Last week a resident in the Oakland Hills called the police on a black fireman in uniform performing exterior fire safety inspections on homes.
Racism is the easy explanation for these incidents, but it’s not the only force at work. In general, the United States has become less neighborly. We interact with the people on our block and in our community less, and find our connections from increasingly widespread places. Instead of diversifying the people, networks and viewpoints we’re exposed to, we’ve become more insular.
In 2016 more than a third of U.S. residents said they “never” socialize with their neighbors, according to the General Social Survey, an all-time high. The number’s been on the rise since the mid-’70s, when roughly 80 percent of people said they at least occasionally had a game night or barbecue with their fence friends. We spend more time indoors watching TV and on our devices, and our communities—thanks to the proliferation of gated enclaves, private pools and athletic facilities—have become less interactive.
We trust our neighbors less, too. The survey also found 30 percent of respondents said most people can be trusted, down from 50 percent in the 1970s.
It’s somewhat poetic that all of these incidents have taken place in the Bay Area, home to Silicon Valley. Technology has made it easier to stay connected with whomever we want wherever they may be, making local connections less essential. The digital revolution also revolutionized how we get our news. We increasingly consume the same stories no matter where we live, with local news taking a backseat to a homogenized, nationally-oriented newsfeed, according to the new book, The Increasingly United States: How and Why Political Behavior Nationalized.
Author Dan Hopkins argues that this shift has depressed voter turnout and civic engagement as people become less engaged in a breadth of issues. We’re not just out of touch with the creepy cat lady who listens to the Eva soundtrack over and over, we’re out of touch with what’s happening in our own cities.
That’s a shame, because your new neighbor might not just be a good friend or someone who can help you out in a jam; they could be your long-lost sister. Lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor!