Every week it seems there is a new way to check out your neighbors online. It's a lot easier than walking over and talking to them. Besides, talking requires personal communication skills and who has those anymore?
Not that I'd look up my neighbors online, but – hey, I can see our house, too! There's our front yard! Our garage door is open!
In any case, if you are so inclined, you can enter an address and find out the name and age of everybody who lives at a particular residence, cities where they previously lived and, if you're an exceptionally dedicated sleuth, you can set up an account and find out if the neighbors have ever filed bankruptcy or had a lien or court charges filed against them.
Yet another website will tell you if your neighbor is a Democrat or a Republican. (As if their yard sign wasn't indicator enough.) You can also see which political candidates they've supported financially.
Please. I'd rather not. I'm happier thinking we're all on the same team. Sure, it's delusional, but life is sweeter that way.
Of course, everything you can find out about your neighbor, your neighbor can find out about you.
Yes. Let's just pause a moment and let that sink in.
If I want to know neighborhood news, I get it from my walking buddy around the corner who belongs to our neighborhood Facebook page. She's faster than a website and more detailed.
Last week she informed me that multiple neighbors continue to have problems with stink bugs. Precisely the sort of news inquiring minds want to know. Oh, and complaints are still flying about a somewhat eclectic house on a corner that leads into the subdivision.
Personally, I believe the more yard ornaments they collect and the more vehicles they have for sale, the greater chance the house may serve as a deterrent to crime for the whole subdivision. People should stop complaining and thank them. Or at least drop off an old lawn chair or two.
Maybe it's inevitable that we will one day all be virtual neighbors spying on one another in cyberspace and greeting one another with clever emojis on social media.
But a virtual neighbor will never watch two of your kids at 3 a.m. while you race a third one with appendicitis to the hospital.
A virtual neighbor won't lend you a car, take in your mail, water your hanging baskets, or bust into your place with a spare key because you think you left the iron on.
No website will tell you that the elderly man at the end of the block who lost his wife to cancer got that big hairy dog to ease the loneliness.
Nor will a website tell you that the young gal helping do yardwork alongside your neighbor across the street is her 25-year-old granddaughter. Or that they're all eating less meat (no beef or pork, just chicken and fish). Like the internet could tell you any of that.
There's something about the word neighbor that implies personal – both for better and for worse. Virtual neighbors offering virtual banana bread will never replace the real thing.
(Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)