Everybody needs good (virtual) neighbours

Terrace houses in Sydney's Surry Hills. File photo.

Richie Black takes an existential look at the remarkable NextDoor app.

As everyone knows, most of the best bits of reality are being digitised.

I mean, why not? It’s so much more economical, convenient and hygienic. Reality itself is sweaty, grimy: the kinda stuff that leads to rashes and fungal infections.

From the glut of social media platforms, NextDoor – the app we all know and love – makes a pretty compelling case for an alternative (digital) reality. 

For the uninitiated, NextDoor is described as “the neighbourhood hub for trusted connections and the exchange of helpful information, goods, and services.”

A typical day in NextDoor-land presents a lot that is decent and innocuous, a community at work. It’s also as much of a home for petty grievances and pointless bickering as it is for solidarity and compassion. 

To that extent, it seems – ironically – to represent an old-fashioned sense of community. True, this may never really have existed in the first place but nevertheless, NextDoor really wants you to believe it does.

NextDoor-land

This is the place where all Tina from Camperdown wants to know is if there’s a “tradie who can put a fly-screen on my door”. Where newbies seek to introduce themselves, like Mauro Coppola from Marrickville who sweetly says “Hi, I’m Mauro *wavey hand emoji*. Nice to meet you. Hi there.” 

Meanwhile Gabrielle from Alexandria – apparently understanding the importance of people in communities being assigned generic character types – says, “It’s great to be here. I’m Gabrielle. Biggest nosey Parker on the street.” 

Then there’s Jace Robbie Turner, from Camperdown, who says, by way of his introduction, “Hi neighbours …*wavey hand emoji* I am a 23 year old male practicing witch.” 

Just as poignant as the hellos are the farewells, like that of Jm Leigh (from Eveleigh) who writes: “This might be my last post before I change/update my profile … ” and how much he/she will miss the pubs “in every corner, kind waiting staff at cafes and restaurants, many dog-friendly parks, Dan Murphys … ”. 

You can also find a nice whiff of intrigue lurking about — like the subplot of a BBC drama set in a quaint rural village. 

Take for instance, the mystery of Camilla from Alexandria’s missing bins (she has had to get some new ones) – or, Felicity from Erskineville’s ominous warning apropos nothing: “I had a nightmare about a home invasion last night … and I have a knack for predicting things.”

Of course, a vital part of all this community back n’ forth is there’s also much low-key bickering. A lot of this, typically enough, revolves around noise. 

For example, when Yvette from Darlington complained that “why do people start making so much noise so that the street can hear at 10.20pm on a weeknight?”, she was promptly shutdown by Daniel from Darlington who remarked blithely (as if he could barely be bothered to reply): “Eh, it’s part and parcel of living in the city. I’m not too worried.” Later in the chat, Dave from Belmore, a bit more caustically, commented: “Jeez, get off your high-horse – I’m sick of the thought police telling us what to do.” 

Such is the poetry of the urban environment, the multiple voices that comprise reality. 

Communal living

The only thing that NextDoor really lacks, as a simulacrum, is the possibility of a chance encounter with a neighbour — and the more fleeting and vaguely embarrassing the better. 

Think when you meet the grumpy dude from number 25 coming down the stairs of your apartment building as you’re going up – bracing yourself to make brief eye contact and say, “How are ya, mate?” 

Everyone is on NextDoor presumably for a reason, even if only because they’re bored or looking to cause trouble. 

Almost no one would accidentally stumble onto NextDoor and say “how are ya” to a stranger on their way to the bottle-o. Nor is there space, say, to go on NextDoor to have a sudden and extremely loud orgasm at 7am in the morning that wakes everyone else up. 

But these, after all, are the ordinary casual exchanges that provide colour and a real sense of community—particularly in apartment blocks. 

Which brings us back to noise. For example, when I lived in an apartment in Stanmore – due to some structural defect somewhere in the floor – I could clearly hear when my downstairs neighbours had sex. 

It wasn’t something I wanted to hear, it was just something presented to me: awakening me, periodically on a weekend morning – the sound of a bedhead creaking and smacking with unmistakable and increasing rhythmic force into a wall. 

To be fair, they were trying to be discrete, more so than one lady who lived in a flat opposite, whose dionysian yelping used to regularly echo around the courtyard. 

I used to lie in bed, hearing these various bestial sounds through my hangover – noting how this intimacy had become (albeit accidentally) part of the shared business of community, of sharing confined space. 

And if NextDoor had been available at the time, I would’ve posted a complaint about the noise.  

A note from the Sentinel …

The Sydney Sentinel is the progressive new publication Sydney needs. 

But launching a new media outlet isn’t cheap or easy – especially in a city where the ‘Murdochrasy’ and other corporate cabals dominate the Fourth Estate.

Unlike many media outlets, the Sentinel will never charge readers to access our content. Our content is your content. And unlike many media outlets, we will never expect our writers, photographers, illustrators and designers to work for free – for ‘experience’, ‘exposure’ or any other reason.

That’s why we’re reaching out to you to help us deliver the very best independent publication for the city we love.

So please consider helping the Sydney Sentinel by donating to our founding fund, to help us get off to a flying start: 

https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-the-sydney-sentinel-take-off

Thanks to our readers and supporters for your assistance.