Print This Issue

Research Roundup
December 11, 2007, Volume 54, No. 15

Annenberg’s i-neighbors Brings Community Closer

The Internet can help strengthen the feeling of community in a neighborhood. On November 20, residents of a neighborhood in Savannah, GA using the i-neighbors technology were alerted via e-mail to an incident of an armed robbery of one of their neighbors only moments after it happened. The notification took place faster than the police or news media got the word out.

The i-neighbors web-based community they were using was developed by Dr. Keith Hampton, assistanat professor of communication at the Annenberg School for Communication. I-neighbors is a free public resource where people find their geographic neighborhoods online and form corresponding digital communities. The project investigates the circumstances where Internet use affords local interactions and facilitates community involvement. Visit www.i-neighbors.org to see if your neighborhood is registered.

Dr. Hampton’s work is reported in the October 2007 edition of Information, Communication, and Society magazine. The article explains the results of a long-term study of neighborhoods where residents used lists of e-mail addresses of their neighbors. The study showed that, in the right context, the Internet can help bridge gaps that exist among neighbors and help foster a feeling of community.

The study was designed to determine if the Internet can be part of everyday neighborhood interactions, and under what circumstances can the Internet facilitate the formation of neighborhood social networks.

“While residents of neighborhoods are by definition physically close, temporal, psychological, and territorial barriers often mean that they are not accessible to each other,” Dr. Hampton said. “This study was designed to determine if, given the right circumstances, the Internet can increase the number of local social ties.”

Four neighborhoods were selected–two suburb-style communities (one of which was the “control” group), one apartment complex, and a gated condominium development. All four were in the Boston suburbs. Three of the four were given neighborhood e-mail lists and a neighborhood website.

Surveys at the outset of the study showed suburbs already felt there was a strong sense of community in their neighborhoods, and that they felt the strongest desire to make a contribution to the neighborhood. Over the course of several years, it was found that those communities that already expressed a desire for neighborliness and a feeling of contributing to the community were those that were most likely to communicate with each other via the community e-mail network.

“In situations where there is a pre-existing feeling of community, or the need to maintain community connections, the Internet can prove to be more of a uniting factor than previously thought,” Dr. Hampton said.

Earliest Chocolate Drink was Alcoholic Beverage

The earliest known use of cacao––the source of modern day chocolate––has been pushed back more than 500 years, to somewhere between 1400 and 1100 BCE, thanks to new chemical analyses of residues extracted from pottery excavated at an archaeological site at Puerto Escondido in Honduras. The new evidence also indicates that, long before the flavor of the cacao seed (or bean) became popular, it was the sweet pulp of the chocolate fruit, used in making a fermented (5% alcohol) beverage, which first drew attention to the plant in the Americas. These findings were published in the November 27 issue of PNAS USA (Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences).

Dr. Patrick McGovern, senior research scientist, Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology (MASCA) at the Penn Museum, co-authored the scientific research article on the discovery along with four other scholars (“Chemical and archaeological evidence for the earliest cacao beverages,” by John S. Henderson, Rosemary A. Joyce, Gretchen R. Hall, and W. Jeffrey Hurst).

“This development probably provided the impetus to domesticate the chocolate tree and only later, to prepare a beverage based on the more bitter beans,” suggested Dr. McGovern. “An alcoholic beverage from the pulp, carrying on this ancient tradition, continues to be made in parts of Latin America.”

The famous chocolate beverage of the Mayan and Aztec kings, served at special ceremonies and feasts, came later. It was made from the cacao beans, often mixed with chillis, special herbs, honey, and flowers. The liquid was frothed into a foam, and both inhaled and drunk.

Throughout his career, Dr. McGovern has worked on techniques to determine what food and, more often, drink, once filled the ancient pottery and other food vessels that archaeologists find throughout the world—shedding new light on the gastronomic and cultural story of human civilization around the world. Time and again, he has seen that alcoholic beverages go hand in hand with the earliest development of human cultures. As with the cacao fruit in Central America, high-sugar fruits and honey were similarly used to produce alcoholic beverages in other parts of the world at an early date, including Neolithic China and the Near East.

Though not part of the archaeological research team at Puerto Escondido in Honduras, Dr. McGovern helped to extract the ancient residues of a liquid from the pores of the found vessels. “The results were astounding–-every vessel that he had chosen and was tested gave a positive signal for theobromine, the fingerprint compound for cacao in Central America.”


Almanac - December 11, 2007, Volume 54, No. 15