Chris and I had a conversation over dinner the other night about how difficult it is to find a sense of community in our current environment. In effect, the way our society has grown over the past several decades does not encourage people to develop relationships with the people around us. Part of this could be a more transient housing market - people don't often stay in one place for long. Part of it is cultural diversity - in my neighborhood, for example, most of my neighbors speak very little English, and sad to say, I lack the Spanish. Many neighborhoods don't have a community center or local park. It's become common practice to call the police for any complaint, rather than to just talk to a neighbor and work something out. And in Phoenix, it's not like anyone wants to sit outside in this heat.
I am just as guilty as the next person - our neighbors, for example, regularly park directly behind our truck in front of our house. In their defense, a - we don't drive the truck that often and b - it's not a paved driveway. Nonetheless, it really steams me up every time I see it. I almost want to take the truck out and make them move it out of spite. I've even started taking a picture every time I notice it. I think that if they spoke English, I'd have an easier time asking them politely not to park there. But maybe that's not a good excuse.
Another example - there are quite a few small children living on the street, and they tend to play out front in the evenings. Some very small ones were in our yard, totally unsupervised, playing with rocks. I went out and chased them off (I wasn't mean - they really started wandering off as soon as I came out). In retrospect, I wish I'd escorted them back to their caregiver - these kids were just toddlers, and I think they were at least 2 houses down from where they live. We have some very sharp cactus - I should have told whoever was responsible for them not to let them wander so far away.
Chris is very good about this - he'll wander the neighborhood very late at night to ask people to turn their music down. He's always very polite, but firm. He feels it's important to be neighborly. However, some neighbors haven't responded well - one wonders if they'd RATHER we called the police.
I feel that this is one of the reasons social networking sites and online games are so popular. Humans are a social species, and when the places we live fail to offer that social interaction, we crave it from some other source. Nearly all games coming out now have some sort of online or multiplayer component. MMOs are one of the fastest-growing genres. I know that writing this blog and playing games online gives me a great sense of community - from friends all over the country, people I know in real life, and some people I only know through this medium.
I do still miss seeing people face to face, though. Nothing can really replace that. Good thing I still have friends nearby!
Update: Wil Wheaton talks about games as a social activity.