The “Back Fence” of the 21st Century

July 14, 2010

I grew up in small town Appalachia.  By “small”, I mean there were only about a thousand of us or so and every one of those thousand or so people knew everything about everybody at any given time.

“Gossip” er, I mean “News” was shared with neighbors over the back fence or via party lines. (In case you were born after the 60’s I should explain that “party lines” were common phone lines shared by several different families in the same neighborhood.)

Back in the day, most people never moved far from where they were born.  They lived, worked, died, and were buried within a 10 mile radius of their home town.

While living in such a small town had it’s disadvantages, there were also many advantages to be enjoyed.  We could trust our neighbors and count on them to look out for us.  We never had to lock our doors.  We always knew when someone in our extended family got married, had a baby, fell ill, or lost a job.

We could call on them (or if they shared our party line, just pick up the phone and interrupt their conversations if necessary) any time, night or day and they’d come running.

Personally, I believe people miss the days when they could satisfy their need for human interaction simply by going outside and chatting with the neighbors over the back fence for a while.  When back fences and party lines disappeared, they created a void that people have been trying to fill ever since.

And I believe this explains why social media is so popular today.

Even those who never knew anything about back fences and party lines, or lived anywhere within driving (much less yelling) distance of Grandma and Grandpa; even if we never sat at Aunt Millie’s dinner table and ate oatmeal cookies or enjoyed the sense of family a small town provides, we still enjoy human interaction.  We still need to feel like someone cares about even our most mundane concerns.

Yes, we need each other whether we like to admit it or not.

Social media sites give us access to our distant relatives, elementary school friends and even new friends with the click of a mouse.

What’s more, these sites never close.  Twenty four-seven, there is always someone online with whom to exchange a laugh or share a story. There’s never a lack of videos to laugh at, quotes to make us think, and great gossip, (I’m sorry, I meant “news”) to be found, thanks to the availability of cyber-space.

Social media has made our world very small again, just like it use to be when I was a kid.   No matter how big the city we come from, I’m convinced there is a need for folklore in each of us.  Social media makes it possible for each of us to experience the joys of small town living, even if we’re all alone in the middle of nowhere.

Becky Taylor

July 14,2010

http://www.boldnewday.com

http://www.beckyjtaylor.com

(“Small Town” by John Mellencamp.  Enjoy!)

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2 Responses to “The “Back Fence” of the 21st Century”


  1. I really enjoy reading your articles. You have helped me more then you know.


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