• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Howdy, neighbor

Ah, modern life:

According to some recent survey results, Americans have become rather unneighborly. A mere 30 percent of us socialize with our neighbors more than once a month (down from 44 percent in the mid-1970s). And a shocking 28 percent of us know none of our neighbors by name. We may keep in touch with faraway friends on Facebook, but when it comes to hanging out in our own communities we are bowling alone.

Tech entrepreneur Nirav Tolia noticed that we increasingly seem to prefer rubbing elbows online—instead of in real places where real elbows might really rub—and saw a business opportunity. In late 2010, he created a service called Nextdoor. It's a social network that attempts to webify the original social network: the neighborhood. There are now Nextdoor sites in more than 6,500 communities in 49 states (not clear what's up with those anti-communitarian South Dakotans). All of them were launched by regular folks who sought a way to connect with their neighbors, but didn't want to ring doorbells or make small talk in the elevator.

To start a Nextdoor site for your own 'hood, you first define the physical boundaries of neighbordom. Who do you consider your fellow villagers? They could be spread out over a vast open realm if you live in a rural area where the houses are far apart; or might mingle around a few leafy blocks if you inhabit an inner-ring suburb; or could be smooshed together within a single high-rise building if you're a city dweller. Nextdoor prefers that each of its neighborhoods contain at least 75 households. So far the median number hovers somewhere around 200 to 300.

A "social network" that lets you meet your neighbors; now, that's rich. Heaven forbid they should actually walk the neighborhood, talk to a neighbor across the backyard fence or invite somebody in for coffee.

I guess I shouldn't be quite so snarky about this since I don't really know my current neighbors except for the guy in the house just east of me and the woman in the house just west. In fact, I've never really known too many of my neighbors anywhere I've lived. It's odd when you think about it, that we're supposed to be friends with people just because we all decided to live in the same place. "Communities of interest" were becoming more important even before we all went on line. Most of the people in my neighborhood are "starter families" with young kids, and we don't have a lot in common.

And, besides, I'm, you know, me.