[Originally posted on Medium]
Social isolation Isn’t working. We need to change the way we live.
Have you noticed how the streets are busy but nobody’s talking? There is an epidemic that has been sweeping through the US for years now. It’s contagious and often causes depression in those affected. Loneliness and isolation are sweeping through an entire generation of Americans — the General Social Survey found that the number of people with no close friends has tripled since 1985.
While it’s not only the young who are impacted, loneliness particularly affects millennials because they have been raised on the internet. Social media creates connections with people who they never meet, social video gaming allows interactions with people they never see. The red notifications on Facebook cause a rush of endorphins that make you feel popular and included. But when there are no red notifications, you crave that release and your mood suffers. Ironically, in an age of ultra connectivity, we are at our most disconnected.
Co-living reintroduces the physical.
This isn’t a new idea but it couldn’t be more urgent. Modern co-living originated in Denmark in the 1960s. Bodil Graae wrote a newspaper article in 1967 that questioned the structure of the traditional family unit. The article inspired a group of families to develop the Sættedammen co-living project in 1972. The Danish term bofællesskab (“living community”) was introduced to North America by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett in their 1989 book Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves. The documentary One Shared House highlights an insightful history of this movement.
Fast forward to 2016 and New Yorker magazine was starting to talk about the idea of being Happy Together. The American Dream is founded on the idea that you work hard, make lots of money and eventually have a McMansion (well that’s a sweeping generalization we realize!). But what if isolation equates to loneliness? What if it is not about the possessions we have but rather the experiences we have gone through. That $10,000 rug isn’t going to make you smile anymore than your $250,000 Ferrari if you lose your job.
Co-living is striking a chord and appealing massively to millennials. But why? As digital natives, millennials have everything they need on their tablet, laptop or phone. They don’t need lots of shelving to house their collection of music, nor do they need a DVD player or expensive speakers. Millennials are craving experience over stuff. And due to this lack of stuff, they do not need as much space. Reduced living space is becoming accepted as long as there is a way to meet like-minded people and truly experience life. Wellness is another important factor in living, and without balance we are lopsided as human beings — burned out, vitamin D starved and anti-social.
Recent examples of co-living concepts include Ollie, Common and WeLive. Most of these co-living communities are located in major cities where there is the obvious lack of space and the common theme seems to be community which is hard to find in the urban jungle. Roam goes beyond the US borders and is attempting to appeal to digital nomads who are not anchored to a single location. They need to travel and need a place to work out of. A more recent example is Podshare which is based in Los Angeles. Critics have argued that this is just a revamped hostel concept but their communities have grown, reaching recent graduates and interns who need a short-term place to stay while interviewing in LA.
Technology can enhance relationships instead of isolating people.
My company Qwerky aims to be the next step in the co-living movement. With entrepreneurially-minded millennials needing a support system, a co-living community designed for these people is paramount. Co-working has proven a great way to work around other Founders but your shields are always set to “HIGH” when you enter and exit the space. In a living environment, your shields are down and informal conversations begin to happen. Wine flows, you are lying in a hammock, you take an impromptu walk with a member of the community.
Suddenly, you find yourself talking frankly about a subject because you know the person you live with. You are on the same journey. You are on the same path. Something clicks into place. You get back to the house and decide to suggest an initiative to your community members. They love it. Now as part of your week, you have a top chef cook dinner for you all while you discuss how best to pitch to investors. Weekend arrives and you take an investor meeting on a surfboard. You now find that your work is following the way you live rather than the other way around. You are in control.
Technology is something that we believe is currently being missed in co-living spaces. Like many condominiums, the focus is still on how cool the gym is or how close to the bars residents are. What if the idea of a “smart home” was implemented in co-living communities? Instead of just going to sleep, can we create a pod where your sleep can be studied so as to optimize your sleep. Effective sleep is crucial if you are hustling all day and you need energy to change the world! Extend technology to monitor our level of happiness, our wellness, our effective relationships and to track how we are not only doing on our own projects but how we are helping others to achieve their goals, be successful and ultimately be happy.
The next step for encouraging learning and developing community.
We need to build bridges not walls. Cross border initiatives are a hot topic especially in cities like San Diego. America’s Finest City is tipped to be America’s next big startup hub. One of its unique factors is its proximity to Mexico. Once known for cartel activity and gang violence, Tijuana is quickly turning into the Berlin of Mexico. The border town has an entrepreneurial vibe that is growing fast.
Co-working spaces are popping up, independent brands are exploding and many San Diego businesses are turning south of the border for digital work, software development and other services. Imagine if co-living communities can be introduced in San Diego and Tijuana to encourage learning, allow people to practice their English and Spanish respectively, test their products is a foreign market and even attract foreign investment.
This is just the beginning. I created the Qwerky concept originally to help people reunite but as I’ve come to know my city and its residents, I’ve discovered that co-living is much more than an apartment share or way to cut expenses. It’s a fundamental way to change your experiences, meet people who change your life for the better, and achieve your goals.
David Lowe is the Founder of Qwerky Coliving. Find him on Twitter @davidjlowe and email him here: firstname.lastname@example.org