The Future of Living

by Sarah Firisen


I have a colleague who “lives in the cloud”. And I’m not using this as a euphemism for not being grounded in reality. So what do I mean? Well to begin with, he doesn’t have a permanent home. He’s mostly based in a major US city and when he’s not traveling for work, which he does a lot, he AirBnB’s, Obviously, he doesn’t own a car and instead uses Uber and Lyft. But what about his stuff? This is the brilliant part and the part that I think is the real game changer for the future of how some, maybe many, people will live. He uses a service called Dufl. From their website, this is how it works:

  • We will inventory, photograph, clean and store your clothes so that they are ready for your next trip.
  • No unpacking, no laundry, no visit to the dry cleaner. No hassle. The travel concierge you’ve always wanted
  • Your DUFL will be waiting for you.
  • Ready to go home? Schedule a pick up, affix the appropriate shipping label and leave your bag at the hotel desk.
  • No unpacking, no laundry, no visit to the dry cleaner. No hassle. The travel concierge you’ve always wanted.

The American dream is to own stuff; own a house, maybe two. Own a car, maybe two. Own a dog, a big screen TV, probably 3 or 4. Stuff. Get stuff. Get so much stuff you need to pay for monthly storage. But we already know that our parent’s version of The Dream increasingly isn’t for everyone, ‘In a recent survey among 18- to 29-year-olds by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, 48% responded to the question “For you personally, is the idea of the American Dream alive or dead?” with a simple “dead.”’ Many still imagine buying a house one day, but their dream includes more travel, following their passion and living abroad for some time.

Millennials are buying fewer cars than previous generations, consider this paragraphLots of us don’t need cars. Many of us are moving to where the jobs are – big cities. So, many of us live in places where a car is unnecessary or even a liability. Even in places where public transportation isn’t an option, carshare services like Zipcar and rideshare services like Lyft and Uber make it easier than ever to use a car only when you need one, and not worry about it when you don’t. Shopping online can bring almost any good imaginable straight to our doorsteps. We used to have to go out somewhere to hang out with friends; technological advances now make it possible to hang out with friends on opposite sides of the world from the comfort of our own homes.” Technology has not only made it unnecessary to own a car to drive wherever you want to go, people don’t even need to drive as much; what can’t be ordered online and delivered within 48 hours?

Our children don’t socialize in the ways we used to, they have group chats, snapchat streaks, they are spending a lot of time socializing with their friends virtually. Forget our teens, most of us are to some extent. I work on a virtual team, some of them I’ve met, some I haven’t. I’ve built strong relationships with all of them (well most of them). In fact, to such an extent that I walked into our Tampa office the other day, saw a colleague and started a conversation. It was only after I walked away that I realized that I’d never actually met her in person but had seen her on so many Google Hangouts that I immediately knew who she was and actually forgot that we’d never met in person and that she might not actually have known who I was – I checked later and she did.

Future generations may not need bank accounts or credit cards, paying for everything with some form of cryptocurrency. There’s almost no doubt that voting will eventually become some form of blockchain-based digital activity. So not something that we will have to do in person at the local high school anymore. This all will give us more flexibility to participate in many of the aspects of “normal” adult life without having to be as tethered to a homebase.

The co-working space has been with us for a while, filling a niche for people and companies who don’t want or can’t afford a permanent office space. But now the co-working space is on the move. It’s always been the case that people, normally in their 20s have spent a year or two backpacking around the world, staying in youth hostels, putting education or work on hold. But with the rise of the virtual workplace, this is being kicked up a whole level, introducing, “Roam is a network of global coliving spaces that provide everything you need to feel at home and be productive the moment you arrive. Strong, battle-tested wifi, a coworking space, chef’s kitchen and a diverse community.” This isn’t your parent’s world tour (or indeed yours). Locations so far are Miami, London, Bali and Tokyo, with San Francisco coming soon – and I’m sure this is just the beginning. This is a brilliant idea and I’m sure there’s a large potential customer base for it. The price is about $500 a week, so not cheap, but definitely cheaper than the average San Francisco or London apartment.

Is this new way of living only for millennials? As I think about retiring sometime in the next 10-15 years (lord I do hope so), I think about whether I want to retire to somewhere or instead live in this new way. Once my kids are out on their own and I don’t have to be nearby, do I live in the cloud? On the one hand, this could be seen as a pretty lonely, untethered way to live. But the beauty of Roam is the community “Each Roam property is designed to balance privacy and community. So it’s easy to meet great people, and still have quiet productive time. Life is more fun when sharing is involved.”

So at the intersection of virtual community, many of the sharing economy services, increasing telecommuting and some of these new services like Roam and Dufl, there is something interesting going on. And there are also some interesting questions that start to arise; if you don’t live anywhere, where do you pay taxes? Living like this clearly means owning less crap. There are implications for the economy if this becomes too pervasive. At least at the moment, it’s probably not an ideal way of life to raise children, does this mean that birthrates, already at a historical low, will drop even more dramatically? Does such a rootless lifestyle lead to greater happiness and life satisfaction, or greater loneliness and isolation? Maybe in 10-15 years I’ll find out and report back.