Amblin' Alameda: E-Tree

Amblin' Alameda: E-Tree

Morton Chalfy

My days all include a little time for checking Facebook, right after I go through my e-mails. Facebook is the primary way I can watch the development of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren so it's of enormous value to me - so much so that I forgive it the crude attempts to sell me things or snag my attention with scantily clad young women and the occasional lurid headlines. It is also a very effective method of building communities.

In Alameda we have many websites devoted to community activity that make it easier for people to communicate and make plans with each other. I'm thinking of listservs like Alameda Parents Network and Freecycle, and the Alameda Peeps Facebook page. There are other Facebook pages like Peeps, but that is the one whose feed I get on Facebook and so it is the one I read.

These e-trees are a great improvement over print media as a way to try to accomplish the same things, and they add a level of immediacy that print media cannot attain. Most of the questions posted for community response are typical: "Where can I buy X?" "Who's the best auto mechanic?" and the like, and they receive quick suggestions and sometimes instigate a discussion. Other questions fall into the "What's going on?" category: "There are fire engines at such and such. Does anyone know what's happening?" Answers to these queries take a little longer, but are still quick to appear.

There are, importantly, requests for help of various kinds: information, advice, suggestions and sometimes, money. There are organizing efforts to bring a "cash mob" to one business or another - mobs which are appreciated by the business and offer an opportunity to community members to meet in the flesh. There are also the long, boring screeds of members who feel the need to rant or shame others or just express a deeply felt opinion on a subject. These are opportunities for members to know one another better or from a different angle, and as such serve to coalesce the community.

It used to be that we knew our neighbors because we shared important parts of life just through our proximity. Modern life offers much less neighborly interaction in person, and it engenders a certain amount of separateness in the way we interact. E-tree communities bridge those gaps for their members, even for those who only read the posts and decline to add to them. The feeling of belonging to some group, especially a local group in this time of alienation, is a powerful tool in the aid of civilized living.

Helping one another is the most powerful human ability and until the e-trees, modern life made it more and more difficult to know when people needed help. I think an e-tree map of Alameda would show that much of the city is enrolled in one or more "e-communities" and that their influence on city life is positive, helpful and civilizing. Technology over indifference.