About two years ago, I moved to a house in the woods about 1,200 miles from home with my wife and our stupid, stupid cats. What people don’t tell young homeowners, however, is that when you buy your first house, something will break inside the first six months. It’s inevitable. That first disaster is a test of your ability to adult without, say, slapping a gushing pipe impotently for several minutes before falling, weeping, into your wife’s arms. Or, even worse, having to call your parents.
Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for Nextdoor (because God knows the idiot cats weren’t helping). Within two days of pulling into the driveway, a new neighbor invited us to the private social network. So, when something broke, I signed into the app and typed in my plea: what do I do? Inside ten minutes, the response came.
Not to worry, here’s how to tackle it.
A few minutes later another response came in. And another. Knowing people were close by when things were going cock-eyed was comforting. Plus, a lot of the advice was damn helpful, especially for a spindly fella with less than zero experience with mechanical anything. Yes, there were some crazy folks in the mix; I’ll never forget the four-month thread about the nefarious water conspiracy supposedly brewing in the halls of the HOA. All in all, however, Nextdoor was a helpful tool that kept me closer to my neighbors and farther from a nervous breakdown.
Then, a pack of dill-holes got together and turned another dill-hole with orange skin and a double-digit IQ into President of the United States. Suddenly, the increasingly contentious American political conversation couldn’t be contained by two 24-hour cable networks, five social media networks, and a seemingly infinite supply of newspapers, podcasts, YouTube channels, and Alex Jones conspiracies. No, the goblin Politics had to take Nextdoor, too.
Wait, You’re Not on Nextdoor?
For those who aren’t on the private social media network, here’s the lowdown on Nextdoor. The app is built to — in the company’s words — “provide a trusted platform where neighbors work together to build stronger, safer, happier communities.”
This realistically translates into everyday stuff like reporting break-ins, finding a contractor, getting a housekeeper, or purchasing a Picasso. The app is also open nationwide to law enforcement officials who are allowed to post news bulletins and communicate directly with members of the community.
The idea is for hyperlocal engagement between citizens who live near one another. If you’re living in a city, the thought of “getting to know your neighbors” might sound on par with downing a shot of embalming fluid, but it’s actually quite nice, provided that you have more normal neighbors than obnoxious ones.
It’s a roll of the dice … you can always turn off the notifications.
The Encroaching Political Cloud
If you’re already up and running on Nextdoor, the odds are good you’ve seen at least one thread about national or local politics pop up in your little corner of the app. If you haven’t, count yourself lucky for the moment. But your time will come. Community leaders around the country are beginning to use Nextdoor as a means to organize politically.
In New York, for example, community organizer Hala Hijazi posted an invite to meet a mayoral candidate in San Francisco. The post immediately invited open critiques from her neighbors. Elsewhere, local candidates have expressed an interest in carrying on a conversation with potential voters via the site much like police officers are allowed to do.
The complaint brewing among political activists is that candidates should have the same ability to reach out to their constituents as officers of the law. Here’s the thing, though: Politicians aren’t the cops. Cops have to help you; politicians have to help themselves get re-elected.
No argument against community activism, and more power to the candidate who actually wants to communicate with voters rather than simply talk at them. That said, keep it out of Nextdoor, folks. There are other options.
Too Much Politics Is Bad For You
According to The Guardian, in our times of heightened political uncertainty stress can run rampant. However, “[the] best weapons against stress-related harm, research shows, are social support and a sense of meaningful control over one’s life and actions.”
And how am I supposed to get any social support when I know the guy three houses down wants to build a border wall fifty miles high along the entire northern border of the United States (because the Canucks are the real creepy ones, am I right)? And how can I keep a sense of meaningful control when I can’t find the right person to come fix the washing machine that keeps making that stupid, damn clanking noise.
Just Abstain, Folks.
Just This One Place.
For their part, Nextdoor isn’t taking sides. As the app’s VP of policy, Steve Wymer, explained to The New York Times, the company’s focus is on helping citizens register to vote, not taking sides in a pointed political debate. As Wymer so eloquently put it: “That is not what we think builds community.” Amen to that.
As a result, Nextdoor isn’t running political ads or helping candidates get elected. They’re doing what they set out to do; that is, help neighbors help neighbors. It’s a simple, but lofty agenda that will be increasingly difficult to maintain as they gain popularity. For now, however, they’re not budging.
It’ll be up to the users to inject politics into the app, almost, it seems, against Nextdoor’s will. So, here’s a thought: let’s just get together and decide that we won’t do it. Let’s keep politics out of this one.
Let society have one single place where a guy can find a plumber without having to worry about whether or not the person supplying the info voted for Trump. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter so long as your pipes get fixed?