List serv allows digital neighborly talk

By Rachel Nussbaum

Graphic by Elena Toumayan.
Some students think the list serv has just become another place for parents to gossip about them. Graphic by Elena Toumayan.

The annoyingly cheerful neighbor sticking her head over the fence to “chat” is an antiquated stereotype that’s usually found more on television than in backyards.   But in some neighborhoods the fence has been replaced by a list serv, as neighborhood news goes digital.

Bethesda neighborhoods like River Falls, Fort Sumner and Mohican have created networks to facilitate easy communication between neighbors. They serve as digital town halls, a place for residents to air comments and concerns without the podium and gavel.

“It brought us into the 21st century, finally,” Mary Sue Johnson, president of the Sumner Citizens Association, says.  “And we have all kinds of neighborhood community news on it, as well as county news and state and local news. And information from the County Council, so we can let people know about those kinds of events coming up.”

Johnson says that in addition to news, residents post recommendations for certain service providers and requests for odd jobs.

“Literally, within about 12 hours she had 30 different emails,” says Johnson, talking about the responses her daughter received after posting her job qualification on the network. “Definitely, people are using it.”

Likewise, the Mohican network gives neighbors an opportunity to compare experiences with service providers, according to Kim Schifrin, a Whitman parent and moderator of the site.

“I think that most residents use it to find recommendations for services,” Schifrin says. “Most people will want people that they know their neighbors have had.”

The River Falls network allows residents the chance to talk about everything from the best exterminator to suspicious incidents in the neighborhood.

“It’s a time-saver,” says Natalie Mahdesian, mother of senior Gabby.  “It’s like an instantaneous yellow pages, but with good references.”

However, some students say that the network has become just another way for nosy parents to spy on their children.

“I think it’s a way for River Falls moms to gossip about their kids,” senior Jonathon Daniels says. “It’s pretty much pointless.”

Parents have sent emails concerning their teenager’s activities and whereabouts, something Daniels considers more gossipy chat than significant.

“It’s good for some things,” Daniels says. “But not the part that’s like a detective.”

Mahdesian says that although the network has been used for gossip occasionally, like one instance when neighborhood kids logged onto a family’s account and posted false rumors about people in the neighborhood, such posts are uncommon.

“Some people tend to use it in a way to embarrass somebody, but very rarely does that happen,” Mahdesian says. “I don’t read those emails.”

Unlike the neighborhood gossips that cornered residents in the past, list servs now let residents decide if they want to be included.

“You have the option of just deleting them,” Mahdesian says.