Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just slightly more alone than everyone else? Like when you’re scrolling through Instagram, and you get that sinking sensation that you’re missing out on some kind of deep human fulfillment? It’s not a specific pang of FOMO; it’s a broader suspicion that your social life would be somehow richer, more populated with actual humans, with fewer nights eating takeout and watching Netflix—if only something changed.
Well, that’s the feeling the “co-living” start-up WeLive believes it has devised the cure for. Or at least that was my takeaway the first time I found myself watching GIFs of happy millennials hugging one another and laughing on its website. WeLive is functionally an apartment building, but with all the amenities listed on the standard Silicon Valley rider. It runs on a very modern set of principles in the urban housing market: The units come fully furnished; there’s a laundry room and a yoga studio. But more, there are the things you might ordinarily need to leave your apartment for—an espresso bar and trendy eateries and happy hours. Most critically, WeLive comes stocked with neighbors who intend to become your real-life human friends. This one building, your home, has everything you could ever need, is the idea, including a built-in community.
From afar, WeLive seemed to be one part social experiment, one part endless summer. It was a market-savvy effort to solve the digital-age loneliness that registers as a low-level yet omnipresent white noise in the lives of young urbanites.
The company has positioned itself as a “physical social network”—an IRL antidote to the dislocation caused by doing so much socializing online instead of in person. WeLive wanted to tackle what sociologist Marc Dunkelman, author of The Vanishing Neighbor,calls the “crisis of urban anonymity.” Dunkelman thinks that people living in cities have lost their sense of community. That people shouldn’t accept as a fact of life that they share a roof with total strangers and never, over the course of months or years, learn more than a name and some basic information—if that even.