Sometimes I find myself feeling comfortable with my computer screen or my smart phone screen as my tap into the outside world. I can sit comfortably in my home, in my car, at a coffee house completely oblivious to the world around me as I visit with friends in California, old co-workers in Iowa or family in Saudi Arabia.
I can catch up on the latest news through my Twitter feed and see photos of my nieces birthday party on Facebook. I have a great social life. It’s all on my computer.
One new social network wants us to put down our laptops for a few minutes and actually visit with the people who live closest to us: our neighbors.
Nextdoor.com, a startup in Menlo Park, offers neighbors and community members a new platform to share local information about events, social gatherings and promote communication across the fences. I love this idea.
Growing up in California, I lived next door to my grandparents. We knew our neighbors across the street and a few families up and down the street. But besides with my grandparents our neighbors and us were nowhere near the closeness of holding a block party or even asking for a spare cup of sugar.
When my husband and I moved with our two kids to Iowa so he could start medical school, we were introduced to a Midwestern lifestyle that not only promoted neighborly relations, it was abnormal to not know your neighbors. Our property was demarcated by cyclone fences. There was little privacy, and we could see into backyards several houses down in either direction.
We met our rear neighbors while mowing the back lawn. We shared a driveway with neighbors to the north. The neighbors to the south became such close friends that we not only swapped cups of sugar, but we talked about digging an underground tunnel to connect our basements so we would be able to visit when the weather became harsh.
I loved the feeling that people in the neighborhood knew what was going on. I loved that when we left for vacation or even just a long weekend, we had the security of knowing our neighbors would alert us if anything went wrong with the house. In fact, on one extended trip to California, we received a call from a neighbor telling us their tree had almost fallen on our roof during a recent thunderstorm. They didn’t want us to come home alarmed that part of the tree next door was gone.
Now, living in Ohio, I feel a similar closeness to our neighbors. But, if and when we move back to California when my husband is finished with his residency in Ohio, I wonder if my new sense of neighborliness will be squashed by the cold, high walls of the California neighborhoods I have inhabited.
Nextdoor.com could be the answer to breaking down these proverbial fences and really getting to know the world outside our computers—through our computers.