A Feeling of No Personal Responsibility

Most of it is ostensibly utterly trivial but the sum is not trivial at all. The sum of such casual, public contact at a local level…is a feeling for the public identity of people, a web of public respect and trust, and a resource in time of personal or neighborhood need…And above all, it implies no private commitments. (p56)

The other day my wife and I were walking to a garage sale. She and my daughter ran ahead and got there a minute or so before me pushing my son in the buggy. They were looking at a bike and the man was helping her put air in the tire with a small, handheld pump that he owned. He couldn’t quite get it to work, but was stubborn about giving up, for at least 15 minutes. He finally gave it one last shot, and successfully got the tire inflated, after which he inspected the bike, tested the brakes and gave me a quick run-down of what it needed in the way of a basic tune-up.

After this, he got on his own bike and left. Strange, I thought it was his garage sale, but it wasn’t. The people running the sale were across the back of the driveway, looking busy, but I assume watching out of the corner of their eye. They didn’t want to get involved despite being involved by default.

It’s the oddest thing in cities, when you observe extreme examples of this avoidance of interaction, but the quote above (part of a larger, very important point that Jacobs makes throughout chapter 3) helps me understand why this sort of thing happens. You can endlessly interact with people in a city, and getting overly involved in people’s lives is an unwanted commitment always lurking, waiting to happen. The line of commitment is partially out of our own control. Many people err on the side of caution to prevent that snowball of involvement from starting to roll. The man with the pump had the ability to hop on his bike and ride away…the people running the garage sales, I guess felt a bit too tied to the situation.

Window privacy is the easiest commodity in the world to get. You just pull down the shades or adjust the blinds. The privacy of keeping one’s personal affairs to those selected to know them, and the privacy of having reasonable control over who shall make inroads on your time and when, are rare commodities in most of this world, however, and they have nothing to do with orientation of windows. (p59)

The easiest way to solve privacy issues online is to not post anything online that you don’t want people to know.

For communication, in formal and informal contexts, people don’t want to get so deep in that it makes inroads on their time. People don’t really want to feel they’re building a relationship over an ‘interaction’ with someone who they don’t have some sort of inner circle intentions with. For some, I’m sure this goes deeper to include those who can’t help them climb socially. Control over one’s time is one of the basics of freedom.

Most people are generally good, and like to help others learn, this is why they try to cut contact from the start. But, the word ‘interaction’ is being divvied up into more specialized terms these days. I feel this is an important consideration when we think of interaction in online educational contexts – PLNs, PLEs, Discussion forums, Online classes, etc.

Facilitation and Participation strategies for online learning can benefit from an understanding about different types of ‘interaction’ and how learners’ time might balance – especially between facilitator and learner.

…we know that he combines a feeling of good will with a feeling of no personal responsibility about our private affairs. (p60)


One thought on “A Feeling of No Personal Responsibility

  1. Hi Glen, I wonder if the reasoning of the bike situation might be context-based. Lack of trust could be on the other end of the spectrum – the owner would not allow anyone to touch the bike because they might fear the person might steal the bike.


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