Most people know the name "Kardashian" even if they don't know why. They know what Lady Gaga wore to the Grammy's, who Jennifer Aniston is currently dating, who A-Rod slept with last night, that Sandra Bullock married a 20-timing douchebag with a Nazi and tattoo fetish, that Tiger Woods is a 120-timing douchebag and kind of a cheapskate to boot.
But how many of your neighbours can you name?
A recent book by Bill McKibben - EAARTH: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet - explores this recent mystery phenomenon in the context of the economy:
"In the halcyon days of the final economic booms, everyone on your cul de sac could have died overnight from some mysterious plague, and while you might have been sad, you wouldn't have been inconvenienced. Our economy, unlike any that came before it, is designed to work without the input of your neighbors. Borne on cheap oil, our food arrives as if by magic from a great distance (typically, two thousand miles). If you have a credit card and an Internet connection you can order most of what you need and have it left anonymously at your door. We've evolved to a neighbo(u)rless lifestyle; on average an American eats half as many meals with family and friends as she did fifty years ago. On average, we have half as many close friends.
"I've written extensively... about the psychological implications of our hyperindividualism. In short, we're less happy than we used to be, and no wonder - we are, after all, highly evolved social animals. There aren't enough iPods on earth to compensate for those missing friendships."
It's the iPod line that struck me as particularly poignant. Every time I go to a restaurant there seems to be a table of 20-somethings busy sending text messages to people who aren't there and ignoring the people who are, and somehow this has become socially acceptable. Cars drive by me where the driver is talking on a cellphone, the teen in the front seat has his earbuds in and the kids are in the back seat playing with Nintendo DS's or watching videos. Families walk through the village a little apart, mom or dad a few steps behind talking on a phone.
A few years ago the Whistler Film Festival premiered a movie by Quebec's Denys Arcand called Days of Darkness that highlights the absurdity of our e-Lives, and the communications breakdown that our gadgets create. I highly recommend it.
These days people carry on long debates with complete strangers on Internet sites, meet people for seconds at a time on Chat Roulette (and then ask to see their boobs) and play video games online against people from halfway around the world who they will never meet face to face. We have hundreds of friends on Facebook, most of them classmates or casual acquaintances, but we still don't know our neighbours.