Question 154 of 365: What are fences good for?

Nearly all of the houses in my neighborhood have fences, many of which are in severe need of repair. They are coming down because they were all built in the early 80’s. So, every few days I see new fenceposts being dug and placed. Pretty soon, all of the fences will be new again and we the peer pressure will mount on any house that doesn’t pony up.

But, whenever I see a new fence I am reminded of the Robert Frost poem about good fences making good neighbors (or not, if you read the poem according to the author’s intent). The fences that are around our houses are serving to separate us and to ensure our isolation, and for the most part, we are all in agreement that they are a good idea. We know that we are demarking the land that is ours versus the land that is yours. It isn’t egalitarian; it is ownership.

We know that we will never be as good of friends or find the kind of close community that places without fences seem to be able to achieve, but we are good with that. Until we learned that the people who live behind us are the most loving and amazing family. The husband and wife are genuinely attracted to one another and the three children play together and with their parents in a real and wholesome way. There are fits and there is yelling, but they love each other just the same. And my family and their family anticipate living in these two houses for years to come. We are looking forward to that, too.

So, what else would we do, but start planning to put a gate or a enormous slide between our two houses, circumventing the fence in the hopes of bringing our two families even more together. We have decided that it is more important to have the ability to roam freely and rely on one another for things than it is to preserve all of the privacy that was originally envisioned.

And that is the way that I feel closed platforms like the iPad are moving. In the beginning, all of the apps worked on their own and could only speak to their own data. This was great for focusing your attention on a single thing (this goes for many facebook applications and even Google web apps as well), but it was terrible for portability and ease of use. Now, though we are starting to see a sort of convergence where apps can open up files within another app. For example, the mail app now allows you to open productivity documents in any program that allows for editing of those documents. Apps like Documents to Go allow you to edit Google Docs and then sync them back up or upload them to another service like Dropbox. We are moving away from the default of emailing yourself objects and moving much more toward the requirement of syncing objects with all of the things that need access.

All closed systems need to be able to do both. I get the benefit of a neighborhood of applications or houses, with walls seoarating them. This allows each one to be the best house or app it can be. But the value of a neighborhood is when people come together. Be it through slides or garage sales, we all need to find those others that can add value to our existence. The fences are good for preserving privacy, but they are terrible at creating new spaces or relationships.

I want both. I want to be able to have an unique identity and also find a way to see how that idenity fits in to the greater picture. Without the grater picture, there really isn’t much left but being a shut-in without the capacity for collaboration or knowledge sharing of any kind. As enticing as that sounds sometimes, I don’t think it is in anyone’s long term interest,

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