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Thoughts For Thursday: How Remote Garage Door Openers (And Other Trends) Are Ruining Society

September 1, 2011 · 79 comments

in Home & Garden, Thoughts For Thursday

This past week, my son had a soccer game at the high school of the city I grew up in.

Feeling Nostalgic About Childhood

I grew up in a somewhat small city that is located on the northern border of Detroit.  The streets are lined with huge trees, and the houses are generally smaller bungalows.  The neighborhoods are loaded with parks, and the city still provides leaf removal (if leaves are swept out to the curb), and if you put out a bucket in the winter, the city will fill it with rock salt to be used on sidewalks.

Anyway, during halftime of the soccer game, I got out of the stands and walked around a little bit.  I walked past 3 different people I did not know, and each one of them smiled at me and said hello.  It was such a small thing, but it made me miss my small town.

Driving home, I thought about how different my hometown is compared to where I live now.    The city I live in now has no character, and I live on a cul-de-sac where we barely know our neighbors.  Generally, people come home from work, pull up to their mailbox to grab the mail, pull in to their attached the garage, and shut the garage door without talking to a soul.  In comparison, most of the homes in the city I grew up in didn’t even have garages, and you knew the mailman because he actually walked up to your house each day.  (One thing I don’t miss is how close the houses were to each other though.  I will never forget one day I wasn’t feeling well and I was laying in bed on a summer day.  It was so hot out, and I rolled over to face the window, hoping to catch a breeze.  I was shocked when I then almost came face to face with my neighbor, who was standing right outside my window and was checking to see if I was ok.  I am sure there is a balance somewhere in the middle where neighbors all knew each other and helped each other out, but maybe didn’t linger just inches away.)

In addition, our current home is located in a suburb that doesn’t have many conveniences nearby.  Grocery shopping is about a mile away, which isn’t bad, but people generally drive to the store.  On the other hand, in my childhood, we walked or rode our bikes everywhere.  There was party stores at the end of many streets, and the ‘downtown’ area had a Kresge, a drug store, and a restaurant called “Wein-R-Bun”.  What’s not to love about that?  (Could have the spelling wrong on the hot dog place…)  Anyway, kids and adults walked everywhere, talking to people along the way.

A Synopsis:  Reasons Why People Are Getting More Isolated In Their Own Neighborhoods

The following is an overview of the reasons why ‘communities’ do not seem to exist like they did in previous decades, based on my observations and absolutely no scientific facts:

  1. Remote Control Garage Door Openers.  With a click of a button, people can avoid all of humankind by just shutting their garage door as soon as it can come down without taking off the rear bumper of their vehicle.  At least in the old days, even if you had a garage, you had to be seen by others because you had to manually close your garage door.
  2. More Two Car Families.  When I was growing up, many households had just one car.  That meant that mom (usually) and the kids all walked to where they had to go, and generally stayed somewhat close to home.  If you wanted to hang out with someone other than your siblings, you had to become friends with neighborhood kids.  The option for mom to drop you off at a location miles away did not exist.
  3. Starbucks.  No longer do neighbors collect to have coffee and discuss the latest events of the neighborhood.  Now, people want premium coffee, so they hop in their cars to sit and have a cup of coffee work on their computer.
  4. Technology.  With Skype, texting, email, Xbox Live, and more, you don’t ever have to sit face-to-face with someone anymore.  You can just type to communicate, or talk through a camera on your computer.  Kids don’t need to get together to play a board game.  They can just log on to their Xbox Live account and talk to their friends through the TV while they blow each other up during a friendly game of ‘Call of Duty’.
I wonder how, over time, things will continue to change.  Will people become more and more dependent on electronics and therefore interact even less with other human beings?  Or, will the perfect coffeemaker be invented that is affordable, and also creates a better cup of coffee than Starbucks, thus causing neighbors to get together and chat again?
How is ‘community’ life where you live?   Do people generally keep to themselves, or do you live on a block similar to ‘Wisteria Lane’, without the murder and affairs, of course…  (Desperate Housewives reference.)
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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

The Biz of Life September 1, 2011 at 8:07 am

TV, the internet, gaming, and other technologies as well as families where both parents work seem to pull people away from direct face to face contact with friends and families, and help keep neighbors strangers.


Kris September 1, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Very true Biz. I thought about the 2 parent working families too, but then got distracted when I was writing. Divorce has done a lot too, as families split up, so do friendships, and people end up moving away.


101 Centavos September 1, 2011 at 8:11 am

We know our neighbors at our little country house better than our city neighbors, and we’re only there a couple weekends a month, if that. We’re always outside, so are they, and so hellos and visiting are inevitable.
I’m not much for suburban cocooning. One of the reasons I’m sad to see our community garden fall by the wayside.


Kris September 1, 2011 at 3:41 pm

What happened to the community garden?

I would love a little country house, although I may never come back home. You have a great situation.


MoneyCone September 1, 2011 at 10:26 am

The more technology tries to bind mankind, the more distant we seem to grow.


Kris September 1, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Very true MC. Technology does help in many ways. However, it also makes people tied to their blackberry/computer/etc a lot more.


Jacq September 1, 2011 at 11:21 am

I spoke more to random people in a kajillion campgrounds this summer than I have done to the people that live next door to me. (I intentionally avoid the next door lady who kidnapped my dog and held him for ransom though.)

This is an example at just at one campground in a 2 day stay: I had someone come running over when I was backing up into one site to help me back in to it. Then another person from their group came over a bit later and said “I see it’s just you and your son, if you need anything at all, come over to our site.” Then yet another lady asked if I wanted to come with her to the backcountry hiking when I asked her if there were places to take the dogs off leash walking. And her husband took my son fishing while we were gone. And took him again the next day.

This is why I want to move out of a city. You’re totally right about the friendliness of small towns and they are still that way. Yet I find myself far more friendly in small towns than I am in my city, so I’m not one to talk. Except for in the dog park, everyone is super friendly there and we have a real community of sorts there. Even if you often don’t know the owners names and I’m mostly known as “Sparky’s mom”. And that’s partly why I walk my dog so much to be honest.


Kris September 1, 2011 at 3:39 pm

It is funny, I think dogs are so good for people. They make you happy and they force you to get exercise.

I love camping, unless I am stuck in a campground with a bunch of drunks that keep me up all night. It sounds like you found some great places and situations though.

I don’t think I would be embracing a neighbor that kidnapped my dog either- I forgot about that story.

I will have some big decisions to make when the kids move out in a few years. I would love to be able to afford a few homes. My dream is that if my kids move away, I would own a home in each of the areas they live in. I should probably make more money though if I wish to fulfill that dream.

Welcome back!!


Linda September 1, 2011 at 11:34 am

I live in Chicago. While my neighborhood is not near the city center, I am still living in the city. I can’t say I know everyone on my block, but most of my neighbors are friendly and help each other. I know several of the people in the condo building on one side, and most of the folks on my side of the block on my other side. I’m also friendly with the families that live across the alley from me. Whenever I see a neigbhor or someone else walking along I say hello. Most people like to be acknowledged/greeted and it’s also a security measure (I see you!).

Certainly the key is being outside your house! In my neighborhood the folks I know best are those that regulary walk their dog or work in their yard, like me. When we had the blizzard in February this year we all worked together to clear the sidewalks and street, and to dig out cars. So the blizzard was actually enjoyable!

Many of the newer suburban communities seem to be isolated in the way you describe. That’s one reason I wouldn’t want to move there.


Kris September 1, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I am so torn because I love my house and the yard. However, the neighborhood is pretty boring. I would love to live in both a downtown area, and out in the city in a nice house with a huge porch. I guess I can’t have it all in one lifetime, but I don’t know where we will end up once the kids are all graduated in 5 years.

The last blizzard we had, I was outside shoveling alone. My kids were all sick, my husband was out of town, and people just dug themselves out. (Everyone has a snow blower except us. I am too cheap and I like the exercise.) I am sure I could call one neighbor and he would help me if I needed it, but that is about it.

I envy your situation!


krantcents September 1, 2011 at 11:50 am

I think people are busier now than in the past. Whether it is self inflicted or not. To recreate some of what you remember you have to reach out and not everyone will want to participate. You can influence your neighborhood and certainly your own family. We live in Los Angeles which is the ultimate impersonal large city, yet we have friends for 30+ years, we know our neighbors and my children have lifelong friends.


Kris September 1, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Most of our adult friends are from my high school/college years, or they are parents from school. The school my kids attend only has about 45 kids per graduating class, so parents and kids all know each other real well. We have lived in our neighborhood 10 years and there is only one couple in the neighborhood I would say I know real well. Many people move here for the good school district and english is their second language, so they tend to keep to themselves.

It is great that you have maintained friendships for so long!


MoneyReasons September 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Awesome thought!

Since I’ve always lived in small “wide spaces” cities growing up, I like the similar background as you on this one. I think you are spot on though, it totally makes sense!

Our neighborhood dynamics has changed recently. A few neighbors have moved out being replace by younger 20-year-old recent grads. This means our kids are 7 and 11, so there isn’t as many kids to play with for them (a few though).

Five years ago, all the moms would meet at 1 neighors house and shoot the breeze. They even went to Starbucks (and other coffee houses) to meet and catch up.

Now our neighborhood is much like you describe though. Our kids are in sports and so are many of the other parents. The kids don’t really get to play and plus they are “older” kids.

Thanks for the great read!


Kris September 1, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Our neighborhood is mostly comprised of original owners, whose kids have graduated and moved on. Plus, since we are in private school, we don’t know many of the neighborhood kids at all. There is only one other kid on our cul de sac though,and I had pictured this kid fun-fest when we moved in because the former owners said there were a lot of kids around. I even drove by the bus stop and did see quite a few kids before we moved in. However, they are from a few blocks over, and the ages don’t really match up.

At least your kids have each other, and I am grateful my kids play well together too.


Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager September 1, 2011 at 3:13 pm

I live in an apartment complex and don’t know any of my neighbors, something I really wish I did know. However, I love that my roommate and I always have people over to hang out, watch sporting events and eat meals. Definitely gives a feeling of “home” in the city.


Kris September 1, 2011 at 3:26 pm

When my husband and I were first married, we live in an apartment too. Our experience was similar to yours. We didn’t know a soul. Part of it might have been because many of the residents were here working and were from Argentina and didn’t speak much english. I definitely did not have a Newman or Kramer living near me. (Seinfeld…)


Suba September 1, 2011 at 10:37 pm

With more technology even the members of the family seem to have grown apart. I am constantly seeing people who go to restaurants with the whole family only to have the mother & father playing with their own phones and the kids having their own play-whatever. Not much talk at all.


Kris September 2, 2011 at 11:46 am

You are so right Suba. I hate when I see kids on the electronics at a restaurant or see a parent just texting away. It literally makes me angry!


First Gen American September 2, 2011 at 12:14 pm

In my mom’s neighborhood, the houses are much closer together. The neighbors are always outside and very friendly. In fact, I know my mom’s neighbors better than my own. My neighborhood isn’t quite like that because the houses are further apart from each other.

I hope there is a new movement towards neighborhood living. I love the community feel of smaller places. It’s definitely something I will consider when and if we move.


Little House September 2, 2011 at 2:14 pm

You make an excellent point, one that I’ve been contemplating lately. In my neighborhood, people keep to themselves for the most part. I lived in a rental house in an older community until last year, and barely got to know my neighbors. There were a few I’d say ‘hi’ to, but the community was changing and most people just locked themselves in their houses. I now live in an apartment, and no one knows each other.

A few teachers and I have discussed this gaming and limited social contact phenomenon and the effects it’s having on students. They lack basic social skills because they don’t learn to “play nicely” with others in their own neighborhood. When I grew up, we played on the sidewalks and solved our own disputes (I vividly remember a fist fight with a neighborhood boy – we worked it out and were still friends.) If we keep moving in this direction, society will be very different 30-40 years from now. So sad, but true.


Khaleef @ KNS Financial September 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Where we just moved to is pretty much the same. The city is very spread out, and people drive everywhere they need to go. There aren’t too many things that done here that bring the community together.

I was born and raised in a very urban, low-income area, and things were completely different.

I think it’s a little creepy that your neighbor was standing outside of your window like that! lol


South County Girl September 6, 2011 at 6:39 pm

I live in a condo on the second floor and I only know the lady below me… Not much community there…

Makes me want to find a nice small town somewhere. My husband and I try and make friends where we go. We know 3 people who work at the grocery store we frequent each week and that’s a start… but we haven’t been able to really build any relationships with anyone. I’ve lived here 2 years and it still feels like starting over at times.


Becca@End Of Lease Cleaning Sydney December 7, 2012 at 5:19 pm

I think technology is bad for society in a sense that our technology is getting better too quickly. I really believe that technology has a hand in our last economic downfall. Better technology at plants means machines can do the jobs that humans once did, and they can do it better (less error). Remember CDs? I used to have a huge collection, now I only listen to music digitally.
Technology is great, but sometimes I feel that it is getting better too quickly for our own good.


American Empire July 22, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Well I guess i never thought about it that way, but perhaps you are right in that new technology such as garage door openers make it much easier to avoid others. And that lends towards a neighborhood that is not close or familiar with one another. But that can be overcome with some simple acts of kindness and hospitality. It just takes a little effort.


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