My generation used to dream about moving back to the land to weave hammocks and raise chickens on a commune. Today’s kids fantasize about working and sleeping in the neighborhood coffee shop.
I went into the local high-priced java joint recently to meet my daughter, who was visiting for the holidays. I hadn’t been there for a few years, since I stopped drinking coffee (please don’t ask why, or how that is even possible). I was surprised to find that not only had the décor changed from plush comfy chairs to minimalist high-bank slabs lined with stools, but that every single customer was quietly working in front of a laptop computer. It was almost as if I had entered the office of some high-tech start-up, where everyone sits in one room, without cubicles, to encourage spontaneous interaction and idea sharing, except that no one was interacting other than the barista who was waiting on a customer. Everyone else was intently working on their latest caffeine infused project.
Some of the twenty or so twenty-somethings wore headphones or earbuds, while others were simply bathed in the ambient background music of the cafe. Was everyone there to escape their families, and get out of the holiday intensity of their homes? “No,” my daughter told me, “this is the way things are in New York, San Francisco, pretty much wherever I’ve been. People my age get tired of working in their apartments, or the library, and fewer and fewer start-ups even have offices anymore. They just expect people to work on their own.”
The gig economy has created a nation of nomadic workers with no workplace to call their home office. They are hired as temps, or “consultants,” never really getting a foothold in the companies they work for. Even many higher-level employees of start-ups are promised little pay, and instead work for percentages of ownership in enterprises that may or may not ever be worth anything. Many of these nomads also travel from city to city to try to piece together their gigs.
PodShare is a start-up founded in 2012 to cater to some of these workers. At several locations in Los Angeles they rent bunkbeds in a dormitory-like setting, which convert into desks during the day. Each pod rents for $35-50 a day, and includes communal bathrooms and space for cooking and hanging out. PodShare is located near public transit stops, since their clientele for the most part don’t have cars.
Possibly if they did own cars they’d be living in them. Although these pods are marketed as being a cutting edge co-living experiment, for some of the residents, this lifestyle may be one step above living in their parent’s basement, or sleeping on a friend’s couch. In some ways it’s even worse. “You really have very little privacy,” said one guest. For one thing, there is a ban against having PodSex, even for couples renting queen-sized pods. “We built the pods facing each other so the community polices itself,” said Elvina Beck, the entrepreneurial founder. I guess that means that anyone having too much fun gets a bucket of cold water dumped on them by the neighbors across the aisle.
But Beck truly believes in her idea, and lives in one of her facilities with twenty-three other ever-changing visitors. “I started it to cure my own loneliness,” she said, “so I’d never have a night without friends. Pod life is the future for singles who are not looking to settle down, but focus on their start-ups and experience something new.” Her vision is to eventually have fifty Pod locations across the city — with all locations accessible to every member. Members can stop in anywhere to recharge devices, grab some coffee, or maybe take a shower and a nap.
PodShare’s motto is “Access Not Ownership.” Is this really where the millennial generation is headed? The first “virtual” generation doesn’t own cars, CDs, TVs, or even coffee machines, judging from the crowds at cafes. They’re not tied to landlines or
cable, they stream movies and music, have meals delivered, and rent bicycles and clothes as needed. They communicate with each other instantly, constantly, any place — any time. They fund their start-ups with ICOs (initial coin offerings) of virtual currency. Do they really need or want a permanent residence to tie them down? If you don’t own anything why do you need a house, or even a room to keep it in?
Despite its Spartan and transient nature, I must admit I feel a certain envy for these young people’s lifestyle. My life lies at the other end of the consumer spectrum. My motto is “Ownership, Not Access.” My garage is so full of junk I can’t even park my car inside it anymore. My attic is so crammed that even the mice have a hard time finding a place to nest. My office is lined with books that I will either never get around to reading, or that I’ve already read, and for the most part I can’t tell which is which. I have multiple file cabinets full of actual files, stacks of bills, warranties, insurance policies, bank statements, letters, journals, and children’s artwork from second grade. The thought of ever going through it all to see if anything is still worth keeping fills me with dread, and so I’ll probably leave it until the floor finally gives way and it all winds up in a heap in the basement.
Perhaps then I’ll be ready for the Pod lifestyle. I’ll call an Uber to take me to the nearest bunk/desk where I can network and hire a few consultants for my new start-up. Do you think there’s still a market for hand-woven hammocks? Or possibly my other start-up idea: CoopShare, a place where entrepreneurs can keep their urban chickens in whatever city they choose to nest.