With the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram invading all aspects of our lives, it seems a lot of time is now spent trapped behind smartphones and computer screens.
As a result of this round-the-clock digital intrusion, community spirit and traditional neighbourliness may be dwindling.
But chatting to our neighbours over the garden fence seems to have now gone digital, according to the creators of a new social networking site.
UK-wide website streetlife.com enables residents to connect with others within their immediate community. Users can post messages, events, polls and pictures, as well as respond to users who live nearby.
It launched an Oxford section in June, which attracted more than 2,000 users after just two weeks – making it the site’s fastest growing area outside London.
The site can be used to meet residents with similar interests, which is how Littemore resident Julia Protheroe got involved.
She first joined Streetlife on behalf of her cousin who had moved to a new house and needed a second-hand sofa.
But after using the site she realised how useful it could become for her.
As a new mum to three-month-old Joseph, Mrs Protheroe was anxious about feeling isolated at home and was keen to meet other mothers.
After posting on Streelife three weeks ago, she began to get responses from mothers wanting to get together.
Julia Protheroe with her son, Joseph
The 30-year old said: “I think the internet has allowed us to open up in ways we probably wouldn’t do face-to-face with other people.
“We are kind of putting ourselves out there but you are not losing anything.”
Despite often taking the time to speak with some neighbours while in the garden, she said she thinks Streetlife will help bring the community together.
She said: “I don’t think it will encourage people to just sit behind their computers.
“Yes, it’s another website and you’re communicating with people behind a computer, but it’s with a sense of getting to meet other people eventually.”
But what about those who aren’t in a position to use the internet to get to know their neighbours?
Chairwoman of Risinghurst and Sandhills Parish Council, Barbara Naylor, started a lunch club last year to help residents intergate more with others in the community and support those unable to travel very far.
More than 20 residents aged between 60 and 90 attend the fortnightly gatherings at Ampleforth Arms, in Collingwood Road.
As the majority of lunch club members do not have access to a computer, Mrs Naylor updates residents through post office notices and the parish council magazine.
The 72-year-old said: “I do think a lot of older people do find it a problem that things are digital or on the computer and they don’t have one.”
She is keen on regularly keeping in touch with neighbours, often taking the time to socialise when passing on the street and caring for pets when neighbours travel.
She said: “I think it’s important to socialise with your neighbours and get on with your neighbours.
“If you don’t know anyone round you, it will feel isolating.”
But she said the essence of speaking with neighbours over the garden fence is becoming a lost tradition.
She said: “I think we are losing that and I don’t know how we get this back. I think that was an era a long time ago. Maybe we have lost that.”
Mrs Naylor is also president of Quarry Women’s Institute and the chairwoman of Risinghurst and Sandhills Community Fete committee.
As an active member of the community, she has noticed a difference between the generations living among her.
She said: “This generation live their own life and do their own thing.
“They work hard and are busy and they do not have time to socialise but I like to see people and I like to see people getting together.
“I’m trying to get events together to bring the people together and it’s working.”
But communities don’t have to shun the internet altogether to keep community spirit alive.
For members of the Divinity Road Area Residents’ Association (DRARA), social media and digital technology have their place.
The association’s June summer fete had between 400 and 500 people attend, with many travelling from outside the eight streets the association covers.
It was both through word of mouth and online conversations that people had heard about the event.
Chairman Martin Stott said: “I think that the two things can be made to work together for mutual benefit.
“It is possible to have a situation where social media reinforces neighbourliness.”
The association ensures members are notified of news and events through the group’s Facebook page and website, as well as extensively emailing members.
A quarterly newsletter is also delivered to every household within the association’s area, regardless of if residents are members.
Potholes help bring community together
RESIDENTS of Poplar Road in Botley, Oxford, fill their street’s potholes every 18 months,
As an unadopted road, Oxfordshire County Council does not have any responsibility for the street.
So in June, around 17 residents from the street’s 30 houses took to their wheelbarrows and spades to resurface the road.
Speaking to the Oxford Mail last month, resident John McKay said: “It certainly wouldn’t work for the whole city – we have a good community spirit which is kind of unique.
“Occasions like that when we all get together, I can’t see another road doing that.
“Other roads might have a party for the Queen’s Jubilee, but this is full time.”
Residents have created a committee to organise the pothole-repairing events.
Although a residents’ association website exists for the street, Mr McKay said committee members do not notify residents of updates through the website, email or social media.
He said: “It’s back to the old-fashioned way. We would generally type it up and pop a slip through the door. We know that some of the elderly people are not up to scratch with emails.”
Chats the old-fashioned way
FOR members of the Oxford Waterside Residents’ Association, in North Oxford, the essence of having a natter over the garden wall is very much still alive.
Despite back garden walls and fences around two metres high, the front gardens remain very open, inviting constant conversation.
Former chairman of the residents’ association, Stuart Skyte, said: “The whole place is open.
Stuart Skyte talking to his neighbours
“Everyone sees everything. It’s almost impossible to go out without bumping into someone and having a chat.”
If neighbours want to talk without a green backdrop, residents are very happy just knocking on a neighbour’s door.
Mr Skyte said residents are always in each other’s houses and often when visiting neighbours, he finds another neighbour will already be there.
The 65-year-old said:“I think it’s really important to know who your neighbours are. We know everyone around here and it’s really important because it’s a nice thing to do and if someone needs help or you need help or people need support for any reason we will be here.
“If you’re part of a community, you can have support, you can have friends.”
Social media can help people mix
PROFESSOR of internet studies at Oxford Internet Institute, William Dutton, said communities need to communicate through a number of different methods to encourage neighbourliness.
Professor William Dutton
He said: “I think it’s terribly important to be communicating face-to-face with your neighbours and be chatting over the fence, but the internet and social media are by no means isolating people.
“The internet is helping people to organise at a very local level. It is actually fostering even more communication.”
The Victoria Road resident regularly blogs about news surrounding his street and also delivers leaflets to residents.
He said that multiple communication methods must be utilised to share news even within the smallest of communities.
But while the internet helps share news, an anxiety exists among some about their privacy.