Our columnist Peter Curtis has repeatedly visited the theme of electronic interconnectivity and dependency in his column Digital Power. In it, he notes that our dependence on electronics makes us increasingly vulnerable to attack, sabotage, or natural catastrophe. It’s a lesson we have learned repeatedly since September 11, 2001. The most recent example may be the tsunami that destroyed towns and villages in Japan and rendered a nuclear plant a radioactive hazard to life for miles around.
Our readers often discuss how to avoid similar disasters in the future and sometimes the human contribution to the disaster. Less often do we discuss the positive contributions that people make to disaster recovery, as that is not the professional role our readers play. In the years since 9/11, I have heard that many industry figures played a positive role in the recovery efforts on Wall Street, and I am sure many of our Japanese colleagues are giving generously to help survivors get back on their feet and to secure the damaged reactors.
In short, in times of tragedy we get back to basics: people helping people. An online poll conducted in June by Harris Interactive on behalf of WhitePages confirmed that Americans believe that we should keep an eye out for each other. A full 93 percent told Harris that it's important for neighbors to look out for each other's safety
This, after all, is really the operational principle behind the ubiquitous "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign launched in July 2010 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The program was originated by New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which licensed the use of the slogan to DHS for anti-terrorism and anti-crime efforts by raising public awareness of indicators of terrorism and violent crime, and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper state and local law enforcement authorities.
Programs like "If You See Something, Say Something" depend on people caring enough to get involved-sometimes at great inconvenience.
The Harris Interactive/WhitePages poll caused me to reflect on the human cost of our growing dependency on electronics. You see the poll also found that more of them can identify most of their neighbors' cars (47 percent) than most of their neighbors' first names (41 percent) and that more of them (27 percent) know most of their neighbors' pets more than most of their neighbors' kids (24 percent).
In short, these neighbors are strangers to one another. Fully 34 percent say they are uncomfortable asking their neighbors to keep on eye on their homes while travelling.
More troubling still, WhitePages sponsored the survey in tandem with the launch of a new product announced today called "Neighbors," the first neighborhood satellite aerial map of U.S. household contact information, including first and last name, mailing address, associated household members, and phone number to help neighbors more effectively get in touch. WhitePages partnered with the National Night Out (NNO) to help neighbors coordinate block parties using the new innovative Block Party Invite and RSVP system offered through WhitePages "Neighbors."
I don’t mean to be quite so cynical and the WhitePages/National Night Out Initiative may play out positively, but perhaps our dependency on electronics has gone too far when we need a national database to meet our neighbors and organize block parties? I fear we are losing something distinctly human and very important.