Fridays on the oLo is a newsletter by Alex Olshonsky exploring consciousness, mental health, and philosophy. Thanks for being here. If you were forwarded this email, get your own:
I have been living in Central America since December.
Both my partner and I had our reservations about traveling during Covid times. When we told our West Coast friends our plans, many of whom were already working remotely in exotic new places, they sent photos and encouragement. Meanwhile, our East Coast friends sent us Code Red Level Four (!) links to the C.D.C. website, saying we were crazy. Some told us traveling to countries with open borders was a precious gift to the local economy, while others warned it was morally reprehensible, putting locals at risk and potentially straining the medical system.
Criticism is a powerful mirror. After some reflection, we felt we could travel safely and responsibly with testing and masks—suspecting life even in a “post-Covid world” will require a similar approach to risk-management.
Grace and I flew to Costa Rica, a country I’ve written about before, with a few other humans we love. We surfed in the morning, worked remotely during the day, and delighted in one another's presence. (For context: in Costa Rica, 99% of the food and activities are outdoors, and Covid numbers are low.)
More interesting than the debate about traveling during Covid are the meta-trends that have allowed for this to be a widespread possibility. Covid was merely the spark to ignite the Work From Home flame that has been kindling for the last decade. From here, it’s no longer just Work From Home, but Work From Anywhere. Elon Musk is sending a fleet of satellites into space that will connect the entire planet with WiFi (Starlink) while simultaneously designing rocket ships that can transport people from New York to Paris in thirty minutes. Despite rising tides of nationalism and populism, our economy is irreversibly remote—and global.
A reader once described me as a futurist (thanks, Bill). I’d like to think that’s true. Another meta-trend my futurist eye has been closely monitoring is the rise of coliving communities, where people live, work, and create together.
Throughout my life, I’ve lived with roommates, girlfriends, and in savagely filthy fraternities. But my first real taste of coliving began last year, when after a decade in the Bay, I made the mountain town of Nevada City home. The generosity of a friend led Grace and I to a beautiful compound there, where we lived in the property’s renovated barn while my friends (another couple) resided in the main house. Our group ended up congregating over meals in the main house. We bonded over cooking, banana bread, and our shared space. It was the perfect antidote to lockdown isolation—an exceptional privilege to enjoy, as most of the world suffered. One that made me ponder: why not engineer a mini-communal life this way, permanently?
Fast forward to last month in Costa Rica, when my brother Jonny Miller—an inspiring friend I made online—shared a link to the Experience House application. The concept was centered on a simple question: what happens when twenty leaders in experience design from around the world colive together for a month to dream up events for a post-Covid world? The hair on my arms stood up.
I’ve been on more retreats than I can count. Even hosted a few myself. But I had never experienced a proper coliving situation—with strangers—such as this. Anyone who works in tech and spends time on Twitter has seen the rise of Launch House, where entrepreneurs rent a palace in Tulum and try to launch businesses together. I saw the potential in that format, but knew that type of energy would never be my cup of tea. What gripped me about Experience House was the carefully curated crew: a diverse squad of humans (writers, entrepreneurs, community builders, poets, photographers, etc.) who are all driven by social impact. Experience House is not solely about building “revenue” generating companies, but taking on the bold (perhaps naïve?) idea of improving a wounded world.
So, when I was accepted to the monthlong coliving retreat in Guatemala, just a short flight away from Costa Rica, I knew the stars had aligned. I reminded myself: if something both scares the shit of out of you and is intentional, you should probably do it).
Worth noting: coliving is not a new concept—closed communities like the Kibbutz, communes, and dorms have existed for centuries. Coliving, as we know it today, is a return to simpler, communal ways of living. Technically speaking, coliving is when you live in a space with more than one person who is not a family member. But coliving’s real magic stems from intentional, longer stays with groups beyond a Craigslist roommate.
This week, I interviewed Gui Perdrix—a coliving expert who has lived in more than one hundred different coliving locations—to better understand what’s behind this rising trend (stay tuned in the coming weeks for my podcast launch, and our full convo!).
As Perdrix and I discussed, despite today’s profound technological and societal innovations, humans have never felt more unfulfilled, disconnected, and confused. Coliving is especially appealing in our time because it perhaps puts us on the fastest track towards replenishing human connection. While the last decade saw a boom of co-working spaces, The Soaring Twenties will see an explosion of co-living spaces—and communities.
People crave connection so badly, they are now willing to pay for it (real estate sector readers may find massive opportunity here). As Perdrix explains, coliving can be so much more than just a real estate endeavor—it should be an extension and optimization of the fundamental question: why do we even live in the first place?
Humans sharing the same space should be a byproduct of their intention—and not the other way around. Coliving primarily should be about helping people fulfill their needs, however big or small.
If your current intention is to build a business, then a coliving situation like Launch House might be an optimal solution. If you’re looking for personal growth, perhaps a yoga and meditation retreat is an extension of that desire. If you want to learn how to create meaningful experiences that foster deep human connection, maybe it’s round two of the Experience House I’m doing now. As a community builder and coach interested in leveraging the intersection of technology and connection, Experience House was perfect for me.
Why Experiential Design?
Experiential Design (XD) is architecting space and time to manipulate consciousness. It’s shaping behavior in said space to create powerful memories—and the most meaningful memories almost always revolve around experiences.
When done right, Experiential Design can change behavior. Once a group of people alter their behavior, culture begins to form. Culture is merely behavior at scale.
The theme of this coliving retreat is around Experiential Design. You’ve probably heard of User Design (UX), where clever Silicon Valley techies design products to plug people into their phones, making apps easier to use and more addicting. Most simply put, Experiential Design is a design practice focused on human outcomes. And in the context of what we are doing here in Guatemala, XD is geared at creating events that engineer meaningful human experiences. The more we can craft behavior towards expanding and uplifting consciousness, the more capacity we have for healing.
I’ve learned you don’t need to be an event planner to design experiences. If you’re hosting a dinner party, the way you arrange your furniture, and whether you collect guest’s phones and keys at the door can shape their experience. Or, if you’re hosting a virtual event, how you create the Zoom container, require people to keep their videos on, and maybe even take breaks with mindful movement, will determine the virtual participants’s experience.
Going into this retreat, I had my reservations about coliving. I’m tidy to the point of OCD. I like quiet personal time in the mornings to write. I get triggered by tone-deaf personalities.
But more than halfway through, I must say, this has surpassed my wildest expectations. I’ve made what I suspect are lifelong friends, learned new things, sparked my inspiration, and tripled my desire to further explore coliving.
I’m particularly excited about coliving on two fronts. For one, I find coliving offers many personal growth similarities that my dabbles into the world of polyamory offered: honesty, open communication, and clear boundaries. Coliving, like polyamory, is only transformative when everyone involved is willing to participate and get their hands dirty. Polyamory offers a wealth of philosophy that would benefit any type of relationship, monogamous or not.
In that same way, even if you just bought a single family home with no intention of ever coliving, you could benefit from learning about the art of coliving. A coliving conversation about personal covid protocols and boundaries might not be as triggering as a hearing about your partner’s latest sexual adventures, but the same principles apply.
Lastly, coliving has massive potential to help combat addiction. Addiction, at its root, is a disconnection from the Self, which leads to detachment from other humans. There’s a reason Sober Living houses, rehabs, and other programs offer closed containers. Yet, statistically, these halfway houses are not effective. Can a new approach to coliving, combined with Experiential Design, help solve this problem?
Community + Worthwhile Elsewhere
🌎 Dialogue: this week we had big crew to discuss how important our non-family relationships are to our well-being. We’re back in two weeks on 3.17.21—click here to quickly add the Zoom details to your calendar, and reach out to join the Slack community.
📕 Jonny Miller’s new poetry book Remember, Forget, Remember.
💃 Cathy Reisenwitz’s “It’s torture sometimes, to want things,” my favorite newsletter about sex.
🤯 How Humanity Came To Contemplate Its Possible Extinction: A Timeline.
🏡 Quaranteam: vacations rentals with friends as a gateway drug to coliving.
That’ll do it this week. As always, thank you for reading, my friend.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on coliving, and whether it deserves its own series.
Until next Friday...
P.S. smash the heart button below if you enjoyed this week’s essay, it helps other readers discover this work 🖤