A connected man
By Tom Purcell
Sunday, July 9, 2006
After I read the article in The New York Times, I realized I was one of the most connected fellows in America.
According to The Times, Americans are more socially isolated now than we were just a few decades ago. A study conducted by Duke University and the University of Arizona found that where Americans used to have three confidants, we now average two. A quarter of us have nobody to confide in.
What's the point of enjoying a good sin if you've got nobody to reveal it to?
The reasons we are more isolated today are fairly obvious. The Internet and technology mean less face-to-face contact. We spend long hours sitting in traffic and longer hours at the office. Then, late in the evening, we drive to our cookie-cutter homes deep in the thick of sprawl and watch television the rest of the night.
For a spell, I lived such an existence in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. But then I got smart. I used technology to improve my life. I moved back to a quieter, more connected existence in Pittsburgh.
I'm a writer, after all. All I need is a cell phone and a portable computer with a broadband modem and I can work from anywhere. As I write this column, in fact, I'm sitting in a coffee shop in the heart of a beautiful old town just six miles from downtown Pittsburgh.
MY KIND OF TOWN
The town Mt. Lebanon was built, mostly, during the boom years of the 1920s. Its main street is lined with pubs and shops and restaurants. The surrounding neighborhoods are filled with beautiful old homes built with colorful brick and accented with stained-glass windows.
I live two blocks away from the coffee shop and commute to it on foot most mornings. It's a privately owned coffee shop, not one of the trendy chains that you find in every strip mall in America. And it's there that people come to congregate every day.
On a typical day, I'll bump into a handful of people I know: my insurance guy, the owner of a pub where I write at night, a friend who has a documentary production company up the street. We'll chat and laugh as we swap a story or a joke.
People are connected here. Neighbors watch out for each other. If you are ill, somebody will bring you soup or run out to the store to pick something up for you.
This is how we're supposed to live.
Three or four winters ago in Washington, I was driving along the beltway during rush hour. Two cars were blocking a lane after a minor accident and traffic was backing up. I saw an elderly couple standing on the side of the road in the freezing cold, not sure what to do.
Because I'm a Pittsburgher because I'm concerned for my fellow man I pulled to the side of the road and got out to help. Another fellow stopped to help, too. As the two of us pushed the cars off the road, the rest of the rush-hour crowd glared at us through their windshields. They were angry at us, as though we were purposely trying to intrude on their schedules.
This would never happen in Pittsburgh.
Most of the growth in America is taking place in the major metro areas. Americans, seeking career advancement, are going where the jobs are. And as we get farther away from our roots and our hometowns as we spend more time isolated we're becoming less friendly and less civil.
Well, nuts to that.
We need to heed the words of the greatest Pittsburgher of all time, a fellow named Fred Rogers. For 33 years, he began every one of his television shows with a simple song that we ought to start singing again:
It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Thankfully, I live in a beautiful neighborhood now. That's why I'm one of the most connected fellows in America.