When my friend Mandy and I are out on our power walk, we’ll smile and nod knowingly when we pass another pair of middle-aged white women out getting their cardio. If a Duke undergrad jogs by, especially one who—sans the jogging—reminds us of our own college days, we’ll offer a nod or a friendly wave to let her know we see her. And if we cross paths with someone either one of us attends church with, we may even pause to chat.
Because we’re super-friendly gals.
But there are others—the men who faithfully empty our trash and recycling every Tuesday, or a newly immigrated Latina mom at the bus stop, or a pale teenager barreling down our street on his noisy skateboard—who can just become the “scenery” for our walk. And if Mandy is describing something fascinating that happened at work, or if I’m complaining about something catastrophic—like letting my $5 grocery coupon expire—we might walk past these “others” without ever noticing them at all.
And I want to ask why.
A recent Maclean’s article reports that, today, half of all Americans don’t know the names of our neighbors. I was interested to learn the beginning of this slippery slope toward anonymity didn’t begin with the Internet, video games, and cell phones. (Though, today, they’re not helping.) Actually, it began with the automobile! When folks who used to work near home on farms, or walk to work at the local mill, or catch a bus to the factory began driving to their jobs, we began to disconnect from our neighbors.1