It’s an all too familiar paradox that we feel alone even when we’re surrounded by others. Living in a city has a lot of opportunities for community relationships, but it could also be isolating when it seems individuals abound, but no true friend can be found. It's difficult because most interaction with humans has shifted online, but there is something unique and irreplaceable about interacting with those physically near you.
The Internet seduces us, leading us to believe that we author our identities. We decide what to share and determine how the world will see us. In truth though, our identities are not the fixed realities we've drawn them up to be. Our identities are open-ended: formed by our real life relationships, histories, and homes. It's about our time and place in the world. Living in a time and place in reference for this article is to the neighbors we have. They may be noisy, nosy, but occasionally lovely people who occupy the space surrounding us, and see glimpses into more of our lives than we think.
They know things we do not necessarily choose to share with them, when we aren't able to really hide behind a computer screen. Neighbors become some of the most important relationships we have because they keep the tension of being a human alive. We feel burdened because we desire to both hide from—and open our doors to—them. It's a burden because they are seeing almost the authentic you, not the self you have created digitally. They know if you switch your heels to sandals when you drive home, they know what publications you subscribe to, how well you can keep your temper, how late you really stay up, and if you're the type who usually blasts music with the window open (guilty) they know your taste in music.
These are the things that makes the people who reside beside us our neighbors. We haven't chose them to be in our lives and we aren't really able to control how they see us. We’re blessed with the real, physical, challenge of living with and beside other human beings. There’s no such thing as a digital neighbor. Online, we can make plenty of friends, but we don’t have neighbors. Neighbors are physical. And this is why they’re important. They are physical beings we see on a daily basis that we haven't made plans with or gotten dressed up for. We get comfortable and relax when we're at home and neighbors see this side of us. They soften our edges. They keep us human. They’re given to us instead of chosen by us; they teach us grace.
Photograph by Eugene Regis