Connected. Home.

The Rebirth
of the
Neighborhood

What Do Users Think?
.

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It's easy these days to neutralize physical distance as a barrier to meaningful relationships. Even when our friends and loved ones are thousands of miles away, we can reach them instantly, anywhere, with a few taps on our phones. Interaction can be wherever, whenever, and with whomever we choose.

Ironically enough, this might be making us less inclined to talk with the people who are literally closest to us: our neighbors. A recent study conducted by research firm PSFK found that only 20 percent of Americans regularly spend time with the people who live next door, down the street, or in their apartment buildings—and a third have never even interacted with them. Forty years ago, a third of Americans spent time with their neighbors at least twice a week. But now, because we don’t actually know our neighbors in person, we are more likely to be anxious about them or worry about what they’re up to.

Marc Dunkelman, a historian and writer who specializes in the shifting definitions of the American community, believes the implications of lost time with those in our physical proximity are more dangerous than they might appear. “For generations, neighborly relationships have helped Americans make an asset of the nation’s diversity,” he wrote this year in The New York Times. The lack of connection between people who might not share more than geography, he argues, could mean losing “open-ended conversations with casual acquaintances on unfamiliar topics that frequently open our minds to new ideas.”

Only 20 percent of Americans regularly spend time with the people who live next door—and a third have never even interacted with their neighbors.

It’s tempting to condemn this new era of “disconnection” and blame our smartphones. But as technology scholar and artist Jason Farman argues, paradigm-shifting moments like these have happened over and over throughout history, whether it was the rise of urbanism or the invention of the telephone. “If you look back through history at moments of technological disruption, you see similar kinds of panic arise around those technologies,” he says. “It challenges a society to confront the way that it defines connectivity and social intimacy.”

In other words, the ubiquity of technology doesn’t have to tear down the neighborhood. We can actually harness it to revive and rebuild our local communities in surprising ways.

The same study by PSFK found that “active and passive networked technologies are reconnecting neighbors with one another to share information and facilitate spontaneous interaction and play.” As more people and more objects become connected, “insights, signals and cues provided by neighborhood IoT stimulate multiple connection points that nudge strangers to become friends.”

Take Nextdoor, an app and social media network that allows neighbors to connect with one another to do everything from organize meetups and form neighborhood watch groups to alert community members about recent crimes. More than 148,000 neighborhoods around the United States now use Nextdoor to connect with one another. As co-founder Nirav Tolia told CityLab, “People do want to connect with their neighbors. ... We don’t have to force you.”

What’s also noteworthy about a network like Nextdoor is that it allows members to be as active or passive as they like. While it is participatory, Nextdoor doesn’t demand constant attention, nor does it force interaction. Farman says that it’s important to acknowledge that technology is used in different ways, at different times, by different people.

Knowing our neighbors well—being able to ask them to watch our kids in the yard, or trusting that they’d call if they saw something suspicious—used to be its own form of security, but we can’t force that responsibility on people who might not want it.

Other innovations that Farman points to take physical locations and enrich them with communal history. One example is [murmur], a project now in cities across the U.S., Canada, and Europe that marks locations with a symbol and phone number, allowing residents and passersby to dial in and listen to recorded, user-sourced stories about that location.

These forms of connectivity, which foster both a sense of discovery and local intimacy, could help puncture the bubbles that Dunkelman warns about. The Portals Project, started by researchers and students at Yale University, uses video and camera technology to connect people from around the world. These “portals” are now being used to foster ties within and among communities of color.

Getmii, meanwhile, opens channels of communication via a sharing-economy philosophy: Its users can broadcast requests for anything from a babysitter to a cup of sugar to the nearest 1,000 people. Max Meyer, one of its co-founders, says that the app isn’t meant to be purely transactional, but rather to help generate interactions and relationships. As with innovations like Nextdoor, [murmur], and the Portals Project, Getmii harnesses technology in a way that ties meaning to location, and uses that location as the linchpin of a connected community or neighborhood.

Technology can also help make those neighborhoods more secure, relieving both the emotional anxiety that comes with not being able to put a face or voice to your neighbors’ names and the practical concerns we all share about safety and security. Knowing our neighbors well—being able to ask them to watch our kids in the yard, or trusting that they’d call if they saw something suspicious—used to be its own form of security, but we can’t force that responsibility on people who might not want it. Products like Nest Cam IQ, an outdoor camera that can be set to alert its owner if it senses an unfamiliar motion or a person, and Nest Hello, a video doorbell launching in early 2018 that offers a 160-degree HD view of who’s at your door even if you’re not home or it’s dark outside, allow for peace of mind that doesn’t sacrifice watchfulness. With the use of these technologies, security becomes intelligent enough to make the home more open as well as more secure.

Maxime Veron, Nest’s director of product marketing, believes this kind of widespread security technology could offer something even more far-reaching—something that “democratizes access to neighborhood information for all residents,” as PSFK’s home report says. “This ability to, if you see a potential burglar outside your home, save a clip and share it on the outside and warn your neighbors is a very important feature,” Veron says. “It’s done manually today, but maybe one day there will be an automatic way to do that, and notify homes around you that expressed interest in knowing what’s happening in the neighborhood.”

Veron is imagining a truly connected neighborhood, in which information and communication flows freely, when and how residents want it to. The numbers may suggest that ties between neighbors are starting to fray, yet the emergence of networks and technologies that open channels of communication and interaction suggests that it’s not that we don’t want to meet our neighbors—we just have a hard time figuring out how. Technology that helps blanket a neighborhood in safety and security can also help build solidarity and community by acting as a conversational catalyst. Research suggests that there is demand for that: Trulia found that the third most common wish in American neighborhoods was for a stronger sense of community.

Why not harness what has become ubiquitous—connectivity, smartphones, online networks—to meet that demand? Farman says that the use of technology to mediate our relationships need not be frightening or damaging. It may complicate or change the way we interact and communicate, but it may do so by adding new layers of depth to our connections. There’s no reason it can’t do the same for entire communities. “Human relationships have often been shaped by the objects in our lives,” Farman says. A new app or website or camera can do the same: “A technology can shape a person's relationship to their community.”

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What Products Support a Connected Home?

Nest Cam IQ outdoor

An outdoor camera that can be set to alert its owner if it senses motion or a person, allowing for peace of mind that doesn’t sacrifice watchfulness.

Nextdoor

An app and social media network that allows neighbors to connect with one another to do everything from organize meetups and form neighborhood watch groups to alert community members about recent crimes.

The Portals Project

Started by researchers and students at Yale University, the Portals Project uses video and camera technology to connect people from around the world. These “portals” are now being used to foster ties within and among communities of color.

Getmii

An app that allows users to broadcast requests for anything from a babysitter or a cup of sugar to the nearest 1,000 people.

What Do Users Think?
.

Watch their story

What Do Experts Think?
nest expert

“If you have a certain identity or you have a certain set of beliefs, now, rather than having to be isolated, you can find people who share your points of view. That's a real blessing. The flip side of it, however, is that there is value in interacting with people who have different points of view.”

Marc Dunkelman

Public Policy Fellow, Brown University
nest expert
Marc Dunkelman
nest expert
Jason Farman
nest expert
Linden Tibbets
nest expert
Larry Rosen
nest expert
Ross Porter
Why Connect a Home?

Chapter 1

The Rise of the
Connected Family

Explore Here

Chapter 2

Is This The
End of
Couple's Therapy?

Explore Here
Connected. Home.

The Rebirth
of the
Neighborhood

Scroll for More

Their Story

.

It's easy, these days, to eliminate physical distance as a barrier to meaningful relationships. Even when our friends and loved ones are thousands of miles away, we can reach them instantly, anywhere, with a few taps on our phones.

That might also be making us less inclined to the people who are literally closest to us: the people who live next door. A recent study conducted by research firm PSFK found that only 20 percent of Americans regularly spent time with the people who lived next door—and a third have never even interacted with their neighbors.

Marc Dunkelman, a historian and writer who specializes in the shifting definitions of the American community, warns about the implications of lost time with those in our physical proximity. “Friendly conversations worked, however imperfectly, to help us glean some perspective beyond the limitations of our own experience,” he wrote this year in The New York Times.

It’s tempting to condemn a new era of “disconnection” and blame our smartphones. But as technology scholar and artist Jason Farman says, paradigm-shifting moments like these have happened over and over throughout history. The ubiquity of technology doesn’t have to tear down the neighborhood: We can actually harness it to revive and rebuild it in surprising ways.

Take Nextdoor, an app and social media network that allows neighbors to to do everything from organize meetups to form neighborhood watch groups. Some other innovations take physical locations and enrich them with communal history: [murmur], an international project that marks locations with a symbol and phone number, allows passersby and residents to dial a number and listen to recorded, user-sourced stories about that location.

Only 20 percent of Americans regularly spent time with the people who lived next door—and a third have never even interacted with their neighbors.

Technology can also help make neighborhoods more secure, relieving residents’ anxieties. Products like Nest Cam IQ, an outdoor camera that can be set to alert its owner if it senses an unfamiliar motion or a person, allow for peace of mind that doesn’t sacrifice watchfulness. Paired with something like Nest Hello, a video doorbell launching in early 2018 that offers a 160-degree HD view of who’s at your door even if you’re not home or it’s dark outside, security becomes intelligent enough to make the home more open, as well as more secure.

Technology that helps blanket a neighborhood in safety and security can also act as a conversational catalyst. Research suggests that there is demand for that: Trulia found that the third most common wish in American neighborhoods was for a stronger sense of community. And why not harness what has become ubiquitous—our smartphones, connectivity, online networks—to meet that demand? Farman says that the role of technology as mediator of our relationships isn’t something that needs to be frightening or damaging. “Human relationships have often been shaped by the objects in our lives,” he says. A new app, or website, or camera can do the same: “A technology can shape a person's relationship to their community.”

  • Article
  • Products
  • Video
  • Experts
  • Numbers
  • Chapters
  • Video
  • Article
  • Products
  • Experts
  • Numbers
  • Chapters

Home Products

Nest Cam IQ outdoor

An outdoor camera that can be set to alert its owner if it senses motion or a person, allowing for peace of mind that doesn’t sacrifice watchfulness.

Nextdoor

An app and social media network that allows neighbors to connect with one another to do everything from organize meetups and form neighborhood watch groups to alert community members about recent crimes.

The Portals Project

Started by researchers and students at Yale University, the Portals Project uses video and camera technology to connect people from around the world. These “portals” are now being used to foster ties within and among communities of color.

Getmii

An app that allows users to broadcast requests for anything from a babysitter or a cup of sugar to the nearest 1,000 people.

Their Story

.

Expert Insights

nest expert

“If you have a certain identity or you have a certain set of beliefs, now, rather than having to be isolated, you can find people who share your points of view. That's a real blessing. The flip side of it, however, is that there is value in interacting with people who have different points of view.”

Marc Dunkelman

Public Policy Fellow, Brown University
nest expert
Marc Dunkelman
nest expert
Jason Farman
nest expert
Linden Tibbetts
nest expert
Larry Rosen
nest expert
Ross Porter

Numbers

Chapter 1

The Rise of the
Connected Family

Explore Here

Chapter 2

Is This The
End of
Couple's Therapy?

Explore Here