Technology Meets Community: The 21st Century Story of Co-Living

Technology Meets Community

Communal relationships in shared spaces, resources, and responsibilities have been fundamental since the inception of co-living arrangements. From early human settlements where survival depended on collaboration and mutual support to contemporary co-living spaces designed to foster connection and camaraderie, the concept of community has remained pivotal to human coexistence, both then and now. 

Two hundred thousand years ago, the hunter-gatherers proved that their nomadic lifestyle became sustainable once egalitarian relationships were established, resulting in shared tribal resources that helped them thrive and survive. Cut to the 20th century, where the continued industrialization and suburban revolution paved the way for a shift towards more isolated living arrangements, making extended communities less necessary. However, amidst this trend, pockets of communal living persisted, driven by countercultural movements and the desire to reclaim a sense of interconnectedness in an increasingly fragmented society. 

Throughout modern history, co-living has offered individuals not just a place to reside but an avenue for social interaction, cultural exchange, and collective growth. They are driven by diverse motivations to seek shared living spaces, ranging from the desire for companionship and resource sharing for economic efficiency to the pursuit of a sense of belonging.

It wasn’t until the 2000s, with the advent of the internet, that contemporary co-living was catapulted into prominence, catalyzing work flexibility and interconnectedness. Hacker houses in San Francisco, California, emerged, offering a glimpse into the potential of collaborative living arrangements in the digital age.

Gen Z’s Technological Alienation

Today, co-living continues with Gen Z’s in charge, revealing a rather more complex trend rooted in technological alienation. Despite being digital natives, the superficial connectivity brought by digital communication and social media inevitably left this generation in isolation. According to a survey, approximately 73% of Gen Z experience chronic loneliness, with a high correlation to social media dependency. This is a sentiment that Wall Street Journal author Ryan Jenkins underscored in his research. “Overstimulation is leaving Gen Z with less time to connect, making them feel lonelier,” he noted.

The essence of this alienation lies not just in the quantity of digital interactions but in their quality. Digital communications, for all their immediacy, often lack the depth and warmth of face-to-face conversations. They are replete with superficial connections that fail to satisfy the human craving for meaningful interaction. Dr. Jean Twenge’s research underscores this, revealing that screen time inversely correlates with happiness levels among teens and young adults.

In a nutshell, a deep-seated need for genuine human connection and community engagement fuels this generation to seek in-person communities and interactions. Co-living is one of the solutions that Gen Z’s result to combat technological alienation. By sharing living spaces and fostering face-to-face interactions, opportunities for collaboration, mutual support, and human relationships are cultivated, offering a reprieve from the isolating effects of excessive screen time in the digitally saturated world.

The Co-Living Market Opportunity

The market research arm of CBRE has coined the term “Modern Living” to emphasize these developments and living variations that match the entire generation’s new needs. Focusing on Germany, it points out that several drivers increase the demand for co-living projects: an increasing number of international students and foreign employees, high levels of longer-stay tourism, and investors’ rising demand in the post-pandemic era for high-yield asset classes.

Recognizing the pressing needs of this generation, the co-living market started to skyrocket, offering individuals a unique global solution built around forming community bonds and engagement as a lifestyle choice. Co-living projects prioritize communal spaces, shared activities, and personal and professional development opportunities and involve technology to enrich communal experiences.

Several companies have recognized the importance of this kind of living and focused on co-living projects. Companies like Common, a U.S.-based co-living company that provides flexible, community-focused residential options across major cities, exemplify this trend. Alongside Common, Ollie specializes in creating and operating micro-living apartments, among several others who are making significant strides in this area. One of the key players in this movement is FU.Life, a dynamic real estate company that turns commercial spaces and hotels into co-living complexes, attached to tailor-made technology that fosters authentic human connections and experiences.

Conclusion

The history of co-living intertwines with humanity’s evolution, reflecting the inherent need for connection and community. From ancient tribal societies to modern-day urban dwellers, the global population’s desire to belong and thrive within a supportive network has been a consistent need.

In today’s digital age, where technology often paradoxically isolates individuals, the appeal of co-living, especially to Gen Z, lies not just in its affordability or flexibility but in its promise of a more connected, communal way of living. It offers an antidote to the digital-age malaise, a space where the lines between work, life, and play blur into a cohesive, enriching experience.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.