I don’t know my next-door neighbor. I’ve heard his voice when he yells at my friends for talking on the balcony, and I’ve heard him slam the door on his
way to work in the morning.
I do know my neighbor across the hall – he banged on my door long enough at 4:30 a.m. one morning to alert me to a flood creeping down from the floor above.
I went out into the hall and saw around ten people I didn’t know – every one of them a neighbor for a year or more. We worked together and pushed most of the water into a stairwell and down into the basement.
Afterwards, I couldn’t help but think, “Why did it take me so long to even meet the people living within 50 feet of me?” Apartment living nowadays can be a strangely lonely experience, yet you’re surrounded by people.
The same thought occurred to entrepreneur Barbara Pantuso. “People live on top of each other and yet most people do not even know their next-door neighbors,” she told Ramona in her interview with rdigitaLIFE.
“It struck me as odd that my door can be four inches away from somebody else’s door and I don’t even know who lives behind that door.”
She went on to create Hey Neighbor!, a social network that connects people in their local community. It operates a “favour exchange” that allows users to ask a neighbor for help, gradually building trust.
“People are afraid to ask for help and it feels like a sign of weakness, but when people start to do it…I’ve had people comment to me saying they can think of twelve new ways to use the site now that they have.”
As we increasingly turn to geographically disparate networks and communities, local connections and in-person exchanges have gradually been ignored. But when you’re deep asleep at 4:30 in the morning and water is creeping in your front door, your Facebook friends aren’t going to wake you up.
Tools like Hey Neighbor! and Scott Heiferman‘s Meetup aim to bring us back to each other and reinforce the value of true, physical togetherness.
“Social contact is huge, there have been so many studies done about how our health benefits from it,” says Pantuso. “Our safety, security and just our general social mental and physical well being is much improved, the more connected we are.
Find Barbara on Twitter @barbarapantuso.