- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 5, 2006

After I read the article in the New York Times, I realized I was one of the most connected fellows in America.

According to the Times, Americans are more socially isolated now than we were just a few decades ago. A study by Duke and the University of Arizona found that where Americans once each had three confidantes, we now average two. A quarter of us have nobody in whom to confide. What’s the point of enjoying a good sin if you’ve got nobody to reveal it to?

The reasons we are more isolated today are fairly obvious. The Internet and technology mean less face-to-face contact. We spend long hours in traffic and longer hours at the office. Then, late in the evening, we drive to our cookie-cutter homes deep in the thick of urban sprawl and watch television the rest of the night.

For a spell, I lived such an existence in the suburbs surrounding Washington, D.C. But then I got smart. I used technology to improve my life. I moved back to a quieter, more connected existence in Pittsburgh.

I’m a writer, after all. All I need is a cell phone and a portable computer with a broadband modem, and I can work from anywhere. As I write this column, in fact, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in the heart of a beautiful old town just 6 miles from downtown Pittsburgh.

The town was built, mostly, during the boom years of the 1920s. Pubs and shops and restaurants line its main street. Surrounding neighborhoods are filled with beautiful old homes of colorful brick, accented with stained-glass windows.

I live two blocks away from the coffee shop and commute to it on foot most mornings. It’s a privately owned coffee shop, not one of the trendy chains in every strip mall in America. And it’s there that people come to congregate every day.

On a typical day, I’ll bump into a handful of people I know: My insurance guy, the owner of a pub where I write at night, a friend who has a documentary production company up the street. We’ll chat and laugh as we swap a story or a joke.

People are connected here. Neighbors watch out for each other. If you are ill, somebody will bring you soup or run out to the store to pick something up for you.

This is how we’re supposed to live.

Three or four winters ago in Washington, I was driving along the Beltway during rush hour. Two cars were blocking a lane after a minor accident and traffic was backing up. I saw an elderly couple standing on the side of the road in the freezing cold, not sure what to do.

Because I’m a Pittsburgher — because I’m concerned for my fellow man — I pulled to the side of the road and got out to help. Another fellow stopped to help, too. As the two of us pushed the cars off the road, the rest of the rush-hour crowd glared at us through their windshields. They were angry at us, as though we were purposely trying to intrude on their schedules. This would never happen in Pittsburgh.

Most of the growth in America is in the major metro areas. Americans, seeking career advancement, are going where the jobs are. And as we get further away from our roots and our hometowns — as we spend more time isolated — we’re allowing ourselves to become less friendly and less civil. Well, nuts to that.

We need to heed the words of the greatest Pittsburgher of all time, a fellow named Fred Rogers. For 33 years, he began his television show with a simple song we ought to start singing again:

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,

A beautiful day for a neighbor,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

Thankfully, I live in a beautiful neighborhood now with a lot of beautiful neighbors. That’s why I’m one of the most connected fellows in America.


Mr. Purcell’s weekly political humor column runs in newspapers and Web sites across America. Visit him at www.TomPurcell.com or contact him at [email protected]

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