While the internet has been blamed for a decrease in person-to-person interactions and the increase in people checking their phones even when they are with someone in person, in other ways it has increased communication by enabling people to get in touch with like-minded people whom they would never have encountered before. Internet dating, for example, has enabled people to connect with people who share the same interests and whom they might never have found in the random interactions of daily life.
Another form of increased sociability has been provided by something called Nextdoor. This is a website where someone carves out a small geographic region in their neighborhood and then invites people within that area to join the group and they invite others and so on. Someone did this in our neighborhood and I have joined it and the resulting postings provide a fascinating window into the local community. There are currently about 500 people in our local network, with many homes having more than one person joining up. Any new postings get sent to the members via email but subsequent comments and replies are not, so one’s mailbox is not flooded.
Most of the postings involve people frantically appealing for help to find pets that have wandered off and others who have found wandering pets and are trying to find their owners. There are also requests for advice and for recommendations for babysitters, household repair people, contractors, and professional services. People also offer plants, furniture, and anything else that they no longer have use for and rather than throw them away. This sharing of information is very helpful and I think definitely helps create a greater sense of community. People are generous and helpful. For example, after a few people complained about missing packages that may have been stolen from their doorsteps while they were away, another resident who runs a home daycare service volunteered to have her address used as a drop off point for packages.
But it also opens a window into the fact that some people can get quite worked up about even minor inconveniences, the aptly named ‘first world problems’. There are some who get really upset when streets are closed for repairs, for example, and complain about how long such repairs take, though one must imagine that the city and the contractors are not going out of their way to make life inconvenient. People also complain about tax proposals for the schools.
One of the things the site does is make people increasingly aware of petty crimes in the neighborhood. People report things to the site (such as burglaries of homes and cars) that one would never have heard of before. I do not know if the number of crimes is increasing or whether we just hear more of them now because of this ease of communication. The city and local police gave the following advice about some recent thefts and what to do about them.
Although each were involved with crimes in different neighborhoods, there is a common theme among all of them. Each of these men took advantage of the opportunity to commit crimes by entering an open garage, entering an unlocked vehicle, or taking advantage of an unsecured door or property. Please do your part to help keep the community safe and secure. The interview of each of these men highlighted that simple prevention methods would have deterred all three from acting. Lock doors, secure property, and safeguard keys.
That was circulated to the Nextdoor group. I thought that this was sensible advice that we personally have always followed. But I was surprised by one response to the mailing list.
So it’s our fault, that a band of thieves are rooming [our city’s] streets? How about people stop stealing. How about [the police] come up with better strategies to catch these types of criminals. There will come a time when locks won’t matter…
This struck me as bizarre. Crime has existed from time immemorial and it seems perverse to not take basic precautions to deter petty criminals. Most criminals are not Moriarty-like masterminds. They take advantage of opportunities, the low-hanging fruit.
But apart from the presence of a few people who seem to complain about pretty much everything, the neighborhood network is I think an excellent innovation that makes people more aware of one another and enables community information sharing about matters of individual or local concern.
Up to now, there have been no real flame wars, mainly because cooler heads tend to intervene when people seem to be getting angry. One of the issues that aroused the most heated debate was a proposal before the city council to ban pit bull breed dogs after an elderly woman was mauled to death by one that had had not been under the control of its owner. Even though existing dogs would be grandfathered in, there seemed to be quite a few loyal pit bull owners who felt that the breed was being defamed and made angry posts.
It may also help that being such a geographically localized group, the people tend to share the same values. But all it takes is for one or two people to take strong stands on some issue for things to begin to disintegrate. I hope that does not happen.