I love halloween. I think it’s my favorite holiday.
The thing that I like about it the most is that it’s one of the only days of the year where you have a reason to go out and meet all of your neighbors. I spent a while last night walking around the neighborhood with Theo and Brieza, having conversations with my nearest neighbors, most of whom I hadn’t spoken to before (we’ve lived in our current place for just over a year). It was really nice.
If you think about it, it’s kind of astonishing the extent to which we typically don’t know our neighbors. I can’t speak for everyone, everywhere, but it seems like a reasonably safe bet that most of us don’t know the vast majority of people who live within a one-block radius of us.
Why is that?
To some extent, it’s probably a deeply rooted sense of fear and privacy.
But I suspect it’s also a practical matter — there just aren’t convenient, socially fluid (i.e., non-awkward) ways to connect with your neighbors. That’s part of why Halloween is so great. It’s a fun, easy, light-touch excuse to walk around and say hi to everyone. No big commitment, no awkward over-staying the moment. In the best case, just enough connection to reasonably say hi to someone next time you see them on the street. For sure this is not a whole lot, but it’s a whole lot more than normal.
Another factor here — and another reason why this is hard — is that you actually need to be really careful making these connections. By and large, these are people you are stuck with for some period of time, so you want to tread carefully and make sure you don’t create a situation that’s weird, or too intense, etc.
So it’s not surprising that no one has cracked the “social network for neighborhoods” problem. It’s hard on a number of levels – the sensitivities mentioned above, the widely varying levels of comfortability with technology, etc. But if you look at the success of platforms like Facebook (networking for colleges) and Yammer (networking for businesses), there is a proven path of starting with an existing community and building a platform from there. So I still think there’s an opportunity here (that folks like CommonPlace, LifeAt, Front Porch Forum and to some extent SeeClickFix and Neighborland are looking at).
Maybe the way to think about this is bringing Halloween to every day? That’s clearly wrong, but maybe there’s something right in it.