A common complaint about technology is that is sucks up our time, limiting real communication. But some digital tools can help us be more involved with our community than we would have ever been otherwise. Sometimes it’s easier to reach out to neighbors and connect with more of them through a laptop than going door to door with a plate of cookies.
We are all stretched for time. So if an app can help us connect with our local community in a useful, meaningful way, why not jump in?
The old school Facebook neighborhood group is still one of the quickest, widespread ways to connect. The social network has been in existence 15 years, and Pew Research Center reports two-thirds of adults in America are using it. So, odds are most of your neighbors already have an account. Founder Mark Zuckerberg said in his 2017 manifesto, “Research suggests the best solutions for improving discourse may come from getting to know each other as whole people instead of just opinions — something Facebook may be uniquely suited to do.” He stressed that if we know our neighbor likes the same sports team as we do, it will be easier to have any type of dialogue.
On any given day, my neighborhood Facebook group posts will range from recommendations on a plumber to discussions about full-day kindergarten to complaints about cows on the road. It gives users the feeling of chatting with someone at the post office, sitting in on a PTA meeting and attending a gathering at town hall without ever leaving their couch.
For what can be an even more hyperlocal experience, try the app Nextdoor. Again, this is a great place to buy and sell things, get recommendations and learn about events, but with stricter limitations on who’s involved. To join a specific group, users must confirm their address, and anyone who lives outside the neighborhood will not be allowed to see your private information. Nextdoor has more than 194,000 neighborhoods available to join in the U.S.
Start by verifying your permanent address, and then add interests, skills and hobbies to your profile. There’s also space to talk about what you love about your neighborhood. Instead of clicking "like" on a post, users can click a "thank" button instead, spreading neighborly kindness. In my rural Utah area, Nextdoor made three groups available to me: One was for my small town, another for my valley, and third was for a gated community nearby. I joined all three, but there hasn’t been much activity in any of these groups. Definitely check out the app to see if others near you are already utilizing this app; I think it could be really useful and a lot of fun. But unless I want to encourage others to use it in my area, there currently aren’t enough users in my neighborhood to make it worth my time.
The idea of a neighborhood watch group has also gone digital. The people who brought you the Ring Video Doorbell have launched the Neighbors app to further the company’s mission to reduce neighborhood crime. You don’t have to own a Ring Doorbell to use the app. When you sign up, decide which types of posts you’d like to see (crime, safety, suspicious, stranger, lost pet) and then choose when you’d like to receive alerts (always, never or from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.). Customize the map to within a 10-mile radius of your home. You can expect to see real-time crime and safety alerts from your neighbors and local law enforcement. Those who own Ring Doorbells can choose to share videos from their cameras to either spread the word about suspicious activity or people. Users can also ask to see footage from neighbors for evidence in case of criminal activity.Comment on this story
Vivint also has the Streety app, which gives users the option of sharing their residential cameras. With a neighbor’s permission, users could view video from a homeowner’s Vivint cameras to keep an eye on a neighbor’s home while they're on vacation, find out where their kids are, or investigate criminal activity.
I would still recommend going door to door with a plate of cookies to get to know your neighbors (especially if you live near me), but these digital community connections could be a great first or extra step to getting involved.
Click here to watch Amy Iverson discuss this on KSL's "Studio 5."