Jul 06, 2016 07:55PM
By Sophie Johnson
Landing the heavy recycle bins at the end of my driveway, I felt worried suddenly. What if I didn’t set them apart the required two feet? Would my indiscretion be posted by neighbors on Nextdoor.com, the social networking site that connects users by their home addresses? Would I get publically outed by an iPhone photo? I balanced anonymity with shaming and scooted the bins further apart. But was this what I signed up for when creating my account?
Not a fan of other social media sites, I joined Nextdoor as soon as I heard about it. The ‘Leave it to Beaver’ mission seemed to promise a revival in the Facebook age. According to their website, Nextdoor is for, “barbeques, multi-family garage sales and trick-or-treating.” Nextdoor believes, “that amazing things can happen by just talking with the people next door.” I was lured by these images. I longed for block parties and friendly clothesline chats, even if those chats took place in line at Whole Foods instead of an actual clothesline.
When you create an account, there is a fairly thorough vetting process to ensure members are only locals. The web-based chat forums can be helpful and charming. I’ve seen posts asking for Thanksgiving leftovers to donate, offers to help with gardening, and book clubs to form in neighbors’ living rooms. College kids home for the summer offer dog walking, housecleaners are recommended, and debates over the best breakfasts in the area can get you out of your oatmeal rut. Public awareness and safety is another benefit. You get warnings of traffic changes, home break-ins and mailbox theft.
But where do we draw the line between public shaming and safety? A picture of a speeding driver in an SUV was recently lambasted, and if you get caught watering your lawn in this draught—watch out! You will be shamed, and it will go viral. Critics point to racial profiling and fear mongering. When I signed up, I wasn’t prepared for the antipathy of homeless people or the political diatribes. I wasn’t anticipating the constant warnings of car break-ins in our relatively safe community. As often as reports of lurking strangers are posted, there are also ‘first world problems’ posts of graduation parties gone wicked. Someone recently posted about the evils of Oreos. Apparently, rascals twist apart the cream-filled cookies, sticking them to cars. Who knew a paint job can be ruined by the heat of the sun, HFCS and palm oil?
As I gape at the allegations of others, I also relish the funnier posts. A recent thread started with a beautifully-scribed post asking about a coyote’s recommended diet. My neighbor was especially concerned because she tried leaving out a bowl of gluten-free cat food, but it was being rejected by the ‘trickster’ coyote. Allergies were alleged. Recommendations poured in from other neighbors and I was laughing so hard, tears streamed down my face.
It turns out my neighbors are a microcosm of our society as a whole. I might not always like their politics or the suspicion I feel in my front driveway. But I do feel connected. Because of Nextdoor, I feel like I know my neighbors better and they have a chance to know me.