The Internet and intolerance – 2

Just found out about a site called rottenneighbor.com where you can go and vent about your unhappy experiences with your neighbors. It is a fairly new site, launched in July this year. Using a version of GoogleMaps, the site allows you to explore your neighborhood and comment on it.

I, of course, was curious to find out if there were any comments about the last raucous party we had in the backyard, complete with fireworks. At first glance my zip code entry seemed to bring up a whole bunch of flames, but a drill down reassured me there were no comments pertaining to my area.

Started by a disgruntled neighbor, the site is yet another example of the incivility propagated by the internet. Stuff we wouldn’t dare to take up in person can now be spewed in anonymity. Is it fear that stops us from approaching our neighbors and sorting out our problems amicably? Or is it the fact that we have forgotten the art of civil discourse? I know this is a pet theme of mine, but I really feel that the internet has allowed us to be ultra selective about our friends and acquaintances and choosing them virtually, thus eliminating the need for adjusting and getting along in our real life encounters.

Maybe the site is just a forum to vent when someone feels powerless to tackle the problem and unable to move out of his unpleasant environment. But given how responsive city officials are to a genuine problem, I would put the mouthing off down to sheer laziness. Too loud music being played? Dogs barking day and night? Suspicious activity in the neighborhood? Just approach the relevant people in the city office and chances are something will be done. In my own neighborhood, we had one house which was a possible Section 8 and certainly looked over-occupied. What ticked off the residents was that there would be pickup trucks barreling down the road at ungodly hours and needles and vials were found on common property. When talking to the occupants didn’t work, the neighbors took a signed petition to the city. I was involved only peripherally , but to my surprise, the house is no longer a problem.

Would the fear of being reported on the site spur good behavior? I suspect people who care about what their neighbors think are not going to indulge in antisocial activities in the first place. So the commenters on rottenneighbor forcibly bring to mind a Hindi saying involving axes and feet. Why would you choose to devalue your neighborhood, especially since the information is public and can be viewed by realtors and house hunters? At least in the spirit of self-interest, try to solve your issues with your neighbors before you impulsively vent your spleen. Tempting though it may be, indulging in that kind of good old-fashioned bitchiness makes you as bad a neighbor as the one you’re complaining about.

5 thoughts on “The Internet and intolerance – 2

  1. Shefaly

    Vidya: Interesting, though I would submit it is more complex that being another example of incivility the web spawns.

    I think the roots are deep. How many people really know their neighbours well enough? If the first thing you say to a neighbour is a complaint, would you say it?

    What the web in this case does is create a system of carrots and sticks without anybody losing face. It does open a possible channel of communication if someone wishes. Locality and community wide websites I think were first pioneered in Paris a year ago and are now sprouting all over the place. Perhaps some one should try that first? But failing that, this is pretty good I think. It is aimed at problem solving not community building, but any first step is welcome, no?

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  2. vidya Post author

    Shefaly, you are quite right in noting that the internet is a useful tool for community building..as the editor of a community based website, I can’t argue with that!
    However, if sites like these were actually developed with the purpose of problem solving within the community, they would take a quite different approach – perhaps offer some solutions and create a dialogue. Even suggesting ways to interact with your neighbors and providing the vocabulary would be a good start. As it stands , the website is just a way for people to take pot shots at their pet peeves. If it evolves into something a little more meaningful, I will be the happiest internet user there can be.

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  3. Shefaly

    “If it evolves into something a little more meaningful, I will be the happiest internet user there can be.”

    The nature of the web is by and large democratic. Which means the users make it what it is.

    If the users of the website are more keen on taking pot-shots than on problem-solving, then I would submit the problem is with the people using it. In that case, the community should really be very afraid.

    I know in the US this is uncommon. But gentle introduction of intermediaries may be useful. In Edinburgh, noise patrol officers worked between 11pm and 4am. If one is very upset by neighbours, one can call them up. The officers appear within 5-10min, observe the noise levels, and then leaving you to go to bed, approach the guilty party. First a warning, second a fine, third a court appearance and a possible jail sentence. All the while, the community quietly gets on with life.

    Sneaky? Yes. But when the people I complain about are 4 strapping and drunk Scottish guys, I as a petite non-white sober woman do not stand a chance.

    The Hindi saying about ghee, kadhai and tedhi ungali comes to mind 🙂

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  4. vidya Post author

    Hey Brant,

    That is really good to hear – I look forward to that development. How it gets used would be an interesting social experiment to observe, but I am still hopeful that people are more interested in solving their issues than just swiping at their neighbors.

    One suggestion – though you may already have thought of it – would be to list all the recourses and resources available to people who have a problem with their neighbors – maybe by category – noise, animal, parking, cleanliness etc.

    Cheers,

    Vidya

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