What Killed the Neighborhood Busybody?

Maryam Ismail
4 min readJun 5, 2022


And along with her, a face to face newsfeed?

John William Waterhouse, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Back in the day keeping up with the goings on in your neighborhood was a full time job. It meant keep a look out, better than the local snitch, shooting the breeze, while getting the latest deets (details) on the folks coming in and out of your ‘hood.

This is just another lost pack of social skills, that has bitten the dust due to reality TV and Internet.

And while this was not the profession of everyone, there was always, that one person who would qualify for a Ph.d if there was such a thing for this science. I think there might be one, it’s probably just falls under a different name.

I had one in my building. She was not one to use the internet that much or even watch TV, because she kept her door open and was checking up on people. I have to admit, I am eternally grateful to her, because without her keen eye and fearlessness, I would’nt be in my lovely apartment today. You see, prior to my living here, my place was filled with a mess bunch of fast-food workers, who weren’t that squeamish about vermin and so, when Ms.Ziran, saw an endless trail of people and cockroaches rolling in and out of the apartment opposite her, she called management and got them kicked out.

I have to say, it was not really that easy living next to her, but she was waaay more friendly and reliable than the neighbor I have now, who won’t give you the time of day and sometimes runs in the opposite direction when she sees you. Sheesh.

Anyway, Mrs. Ziran, or one of her six kids would always open the door, the minute we came in or went out. She was real nice about it. Smiling and offering her delicious dishes. Maan, we ate so well when she was around. Cakes, steaks, rice, salad, the full menu. She was always happy to share. It was funny, how she seemed to never leave her house but knew everything about everybody. I once noticed how one neighbor always kept her door open in the summer, in order to catch some air conditioning from the hallway. Mrs. Ziran didn’t like that. “I called the office on them,” she told me.

Al hamduillah, she liked me and I made sure to stay on her good side.

Now this was before smartphones, because life essentials and the crack like addictions to Tiktok and such reality TV has no stars to the level of the Kardashians in the Middle East.

In fact, I think between the eight people in that house there were only two mobile phones, so for them, it was face-to-face, live action, that mattered most. Even the kids were in on it, they too, would shamelessly crack the door to see who was doing what.

But you know, I am not made at them. In fact, I quite miss them. Mostly, because, people like that are the ones from which you can build a community. They not only know everybody; they can introduce you to everybody. The have more pertinent, concise, and factual information than Google ever will, because they really know who you are, what you are, and what you need. This come through conversation, gallons of tea, and shared meals.

The Internet, with all of its algorithms cannot provide that.

Now, instead of staring out our windows, or chatting with the locals, we can peer into the houses of people showing off in social media. If we want to know about somebody’s mother, father, or lover, we Google them. When it comes to watching a good fight, or throw down, screaming argument, we go to reality TV. Cause, now that everyone is occupied/pacifying themselves on their phones, they don’t even have time for that. Yet, we are missing out on not only the art of conversation, prime social skills, and bonding with others in total what we are missing a real human connection.

Just imaging if an influencer had as many real people in their lives as that had on social media. They’d go nuts, but how many of those people on social media would really take the time to check on them in real life. Not many.

Recently, my friend who immigrated to the US a few years ago, was shocked to learn of a neighbor whose ten-day old corpse had been found in an apartment. In his shock, he asked how can this happen? I told him it happens so much the even made a dark comedy about it, called, Sunshine Cleaning. What I didn’t tell him, was, that this film was seemed to be inspired by an episode of This American Life, where a guy who cleaned up the overly departed for a living described one body he found by the sound not by the smell. I will, just let you think about that for a minute. If only the deceased had a neighbor checking up on him all the time.

I am sure this entire concept will go over the average millennials head, so I will just provide a little context for those of you who don’t get my drift.




Maryam Ismail

Mom. Journalist. Pizza maker New School for Social Research Alum, MA in Sociology and Historical Studies.