Hell is Other People: What Co-living spaces can learn from Uber

Sharing is not (always) about caring.

UberPool: Show me the money.

Did you ever ride a bus in order to make new friends? How about a taxi? Services like Lyft an UberPool provide affordable, on-demand transportation. They enable consumers to share resources for mutual benefit. Sharing, in this case, is not a benefit; it is a cost — consumers prefer to ride alone, taking the shortest possible path to their destination. They are willing to ride with others, making minor detours, in order to save money.

The presence of other people is a source of risk and discomfort. Last month, these led Uber to publish guidelines urging riders to avoid “asking overly personal questions”, “having sex” or commenting on each other’s dress.

Co-living spaces like to emphasize the value of community. The want us to acknowledge that “we are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with” (WeLive) and to be attracted to the joys of “co-eating, co-playing, and co-creating” (Common). To be fair, they also mention flexibility and affordability.

Is the abstract idea of “community” — the constant presence of other people — really of such value? It depends. If hell is indeed other people, the purpose of innovation is to facilitate collaboration for mutual benefit. Beyond tangible value (price, access to better resources), the assumption that community can be manufactured is questionable.

This does not mean that co-living or co-working projects are doomed. It does mean that they are more likely to succeed by focusing on one of two extremes: (1) empowering people from existing communities, who have a lot in common, and are already seeking each other; and (2) enabling people to share resources with the least possible interaction with each other.


Dror Poleg helps REITs and asset managers make the most of technological change. Download his latest research report: Don’t Think of Building: Technology’s Threat to Real Estate Owners, Operators, and Valuations.