Fences are useful things. You can put them around things. And put things around them.  Fences can be made of many materials: wattle, wood, concrete, barbed wire and others.

Fences can be white or black or white and black and everything in-between.

In many ways fences provide some kind of protection. We put a fence around our house to keep our family safe. We put a fence around our chicken pens to keep their eggs safe.

We put a fence around a prison to protect us from them.

But fences, by their very nature divide. Separate.

Let me tell you about the fence around my house. It’s not great, if I’m being honest. It’s unpainted, slow-rotted (the sad version of slow-roasted) and worst of all, looks quiet dreary. So I was glad when the owner of the property decided to strip the whole thing down and put up some new posts.

You know the interesting thing about fences? They give you neighbours. Or at least the modern definition of what we call a neighbour. The person over the fence.

Now I’ve had good neighbors and I’ve had bad, and I’m guessing you’ve got your stories too.

But fences keep them out of your business and you out of theirs. And it never really occurred to me how strong something like a fence can change social interactions.

With the fence taken down at 9AM I now have a backyard shared with the folks on either side. And despite the noisy cutting of wood and beeping of trucks there’s been more interaction between us than I’ve seen since the time I first moved in four years ago.

Suddenly the fence construction was much less interesting to me than simply watching as people wandered in backyards not their own sharing a coffee or tea with the ‘neighbour’.

I can understand why anyone reading this is confounded by this seemingly obvious revelation about modern suburbia. For me, however, it was an eye opening experience revealing how the physical barriers we put up, with usually good reason, change the environment around us, and by extension the way our social interactions evolve, or in a more negative take on it – devolve.

By the end of the week, a new fence will be up, bright and fresh. And once more it’ll block out the people around me, and this time even more efficiently.




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