Front Porch Forum

Internet Communities - Virtual Reality

Taking the Front Porch Online

NPR: State of the Re:Union
By Al Letson
Fall 2012

[To listen to the Front Porch Forum piece (although we recommend taking in the full hour show), go to the 5th section (Segment B) and start at the 7:00 minute mark.]

[Excerpted from the full article.]

At this point in the 21st century, it’s kind of impossible to talk about community-building without, at some point, talking about the internet. The way we meet people, establish connections, maintain our relationships and fight for what we believe in has been radically transformed by the web—and it’s still transforming. But often, when we’re talking about these changes, the focus is either on pure enthusiasm about the possibilities presented by the limitlessness of the web, or anxiety about online connections replacing physical ones. With this episode of SOTRU, we tell stories of the internet’s impact on community-building in human terms, on the messy level of people’s daily existence, where its effects are rarely solely positive or negative. In each of these stories, we look at a different way the internet has slipped into our interactions with one another, from wholesale social transformations facilitated by the web, to individual lives reconfigured, to more minor everyday happenings.This is an hour of exploring how the “virtual” has turned into the “real” in people’s lives.

Segment B: Part B: Taking the Front Porch Online

Yes, the internet can help us connect with people halfway around the world, but it can also do it closer to home… maybe even right next door. Michael Wood-Lewis kind of needed something to do that, when he and his wife moved from Washington D.C. to Burlington, VT. They had more than a little trouble meeting their neighbors—they’d brought the folks who lived close by homemade cookies, delivered on china plates (an incentive for them to bring them back and strike up a friendship), and never got any of them back. So, Michael decided to try Plan B. He printed up 400 fliers and put one on the door of each house, inviting them to join a neighborhood-only forum. It quickly turned into a neighborly conversation about what wildlife (possums, skunks) was wandering into families’ backyards, and who needed their apple trees pruned. “Forget the World Wide Web--this one stretched barely four blocks. And no video, no rating systems, no celebrities, no hyperlinks. Just the daily rhythm of neighborhood life," says Michael. It grew so successful that Michael turned what he’d started calling the Front Porch Forum into a business that now covers 60 % of Burlington, and other small towns in rural Vermont and upstate New York. This isn’t just about virtually connecting with your neighbors, though; Michael says they’ve found that staying in touch online has translated into a much more engaged real life community.

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