Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Commuting and local acquaintances The other day I posted a comment over on Front Porch Forum in a discussion about the effect of commuting on local social networks. It was sparked by a post by Facebook's Cameron Marlow, picking up some Putnam material which noted that: The car and the commute... are demonstrably bad for community life. I was just adding a point that, if people have to travel for economic reasons, some forms of commuting are not totally detrimental to local social relations. That same day I was at a meeting in London, after which I met up with my brother and we took the tube for a few stops. When we got out he said, wow, talking on the train, I don't usually do that, that doesn't happen on the trains I use. Later that evening I took the overground train to my home in the sticks, and as I left the station chanced to meet an acquaintance I've got to know over the years from our local gym. He lives about half a mile from me, so I'd certainly not classify him as a neighbour. We walked up the hill together chatting. 'Tell you who I haven't seen for a while' says he - 'Irene.' (Another long-time fellow gym-user). Nor I, says I. Hope she's ok. I know whereabouts she lives, but not where exactly. We may have just missed her. We could ask the staff at the gym. Which sort-of illustrates not just the way local connections can get reinforced in the commuting context, but also the limits of this kind of relationship. Maybe it's not my role to check on Irene, although she's getting on a bit and always on her own. But the missing component is the communication channel which would legitimate such a role - the local online network of course.

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