It’s a Parisian social networking site that is helping people to meet their neighbours. Which is great. Sort of.
Of course it’s a positive thing that people are meeting up. But it worries me that it has taken the mediation of a website to do so. The proof of the pudding will, of course, be in the eating: will the site reinvigorate community and neighbourly feeling so effectively that it won’t be needed in the future?
I hope so. I am currently reading The Challenges of Ivan Illich – a series of essays by some of Illich’s collaborators – and there is a piece there entitled ‘Hospitality Cannot be a Challenge’ which I think is pertinent…
Illich was a radical in all senses: a radical Catholic, a radical academic, an iconoclast unafraid to challenge even the most basic elements of modern society. He was against institutional education, seeing it simply as an organ to feed an institutionalized society. He instead – and this is 1971 remember – proposed “educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”
This highlights Illich’s grand vision: care for one another. He wanted most to be remembered for hospitality:
“I do think that if I had to choose one word to which hope can be tied it is hospitality. A practice of hospitality recovering threshold, table, patience, listening, and from there generating seedbeds for virtue and friendship on the one hand. On the other hand radiating out for possible community, for rebirth of community.”
But such hospitality should not, the essay proposes, been seen as a ‘challenge’. Challenges are for technology, problems that need to be worked out logically. “It is absurd to talk of a guest and a host challenging each other to live under the same roof” – there should be no battleground here.
Instead hospitality – the act of meeting ‘the other’ – is a mindset, a philosophy, a way of the heart. So while I’m sure Illich would have applauded the creators of Peuplade for getting people together, I’m not sure he would have been enthralled by the prospect of a society where it took computers to do so. If it takes technology to mediate us to our neighbours, I’m not sure we’ve got the philosophy of hospitality right yet.