Gawkers and depersonalized answering machines
From: David Hungerford (
Date: Tue, 17 Jan 95 12:11 CST
>Martin Tracy wrote
>Trespassing on private property is certainly illegal, but enforceable
>only if the property is marked with "No Trespassing!" signs.  If this is
>the way the community feels, the signs should be posted, especially if
>there is no obvious demarcation with the surrounding community.  Barbed
>wire would also help convey this message.
> Even cohousing groups
>seem fearful of strangers in their "village".  This is progress?

For me, I think this issue has much less to do with "private property" than
it does with personal "space" and genuine protective feelings (however
"irrational") toward my family.  Muir Commons has a perimeter fence, but no
gates--just openings at the parking lots and at the greenbelt.  We've
talked at length about security and the options of signs and gates (one of
us is a rape survivor, and her concerns about security are very deeply
seated), but we don't want to cut ourselves off from the outside world,
especially our neighbors, because we agree with Martin that insulating
ourselves is not progress. The children play somewhat freely within this
area and often have less direct supervision than they might if they were
not in "cohousing."  I value this freedom for our children. But, however
"irrational" it might be, I have to know they are safe, and strangers
walking around our site does not feel safe!  This is not an uncommon
feeling in our culture, and courteous people (by definition) do not violate
it; they call first, or at the very least, approach someone immediately
(the first front door they come to) and explain that they were just passing
through, etc.

We recently have had a number of late night car burglaries and stolen
bicycles, so we do have legitimate security concerns for property--and it
is not a great leap to extend that paranoia to our children.  Risk analysis
can give us very, very low probabilities for stranger
abduction/molestation--just as it does for death in commercial airline
accidents (turboprops in midwestern ice storms notwithstanding), but when
it's your child (or in cohousing, your neighbor's children, too),
probabilities mean nothing because the loss of a child is not measurable,
and even a very small (probability of har)*(infinite value of a child)
equals a very large cost.  IMHO, private property probably is theft and
represents an unhealthy and unsustainable perceived need to
own/control/have power and dominion over something, but it also represents
personal space; the area in which I can know that me and mine are safe, so
I have no qualms, in this place and at this time, about justifying the fact
that I own, and need to protect, a home and a 1/26 undivided share of
common space for me and mine to live in. And I expect visitors, and
especially potentential cohousers, to respect these very common feelings.
Otherwise, they will be treated with the same degree of courtesy they

>Speaking of fear, I've often wondered why so many message machines answer
>with "You've reached 123-4567.  We're not here right now..."
>It seems a small matter, but by answering with a number rather than a
>name, we depersonalize the world a little bit because of fear.
>Furthermore, the first time a friend calls that number, he will know he
>has reached the right number, but not necessarily the right person.

Our ogm sounds much like that, but I did it as a courtesy to people who
dialed wrong numbers, and to save myself having to listen through their
messages to other people, not out of "fear" of burglars.  Also, I simply
prefer a parsimonious message--a matter of style, I suppose.

David Hungerford
Muir Commons

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