In 2027, the ritual of real community is the norm — and it uplifts society.
It’s November 28, 2027.
Life has become, in many ways, a lot harder over the past decade. It wasn’t so clear that we would survive. Jobs were lost to automation, and populations were uprooted by increasing wealth disparity, distrust, division and climate change, depleting people of opportunity and dignity, corrupting our institutions and hope, and leaving people feeling powerless. Something had to happen. Because powerlessness is not sustainable.
It only took ten years, from 2007 to 2017, for smartphones to go from nonexistent to essential. But there was still something missing. You could make a car appear in minutes, but you couldn’t make a community show up for you. You could share a photo with vast global communities, but you weren’t sharing the kind of life-giving connection that only comes from being together, in person, in real life. The time we virtually spent with others felt increasingly empty and addictive as humans were losing the skills and patience of IRL interaction. Would the worst in us get the best of us? We were more connected than ever, but we also felt more alone.
A meetup is how a person becomes more human. Inevitably, when life gets harder, people turn toward each other. Sometimes hardship pushes people to turn on each other, but the dual nature of tribalism bends more toward our supportive instincts for community than our warring ones. Simply put, when in need, people tend to help each other, teach each other, lean on each other. When people meetup, they start businesses, start bands, and have babies. In the last ten years, people turned toward each other because they felt powerless, needed opportunity in their lives, and had little else to turn to. Over the course of human history, people have done atrocious things when they come together, but it is also true, and more frequently the case, that when people meetup, they achieve the best things humanity is capable of.
A meetup forms when people yearn for something better in their lives. A meetup is simply a group of people with a shared purpose who get together IRL regularly. From language-learning meetups and health-support meetups, to career-development meetups and running meetups, here in 2027, almost half of the world’s population goes to a monthly meetup. It’s just normal. At any given hour across the planet, millions of people are meeting up with a circle of people they have come to care about and who have come to care about them. In these meetups, people come to root for each other, learn together, search for opportunity, and help each other find it. The need to be seen, to be heard, to be understood by a circle of people who depend on each other is fundamental to what makes us human.
A lot can happen in a decade. Society has changed, slowly, quietly, yet deliberately. As people chose to turn toward each other, the meetup went from a niche phenomenon to a widespread cultural norm, and the things that typically divided us — politics, race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, class, nationality — started to become secondary and surmountable. And as the ritual of real community reached a tipping point, a collective sense of hope emerged.
2027 is a different world, not just because of advances in technology itself, but because of how technology is giving people real access to each other.
It’s 8 p.m. in Nairobi on Monday, November 29, 2027.
The kids are finally asleep, so she tiptoes down the hallway. She pulls her running clothes from her dresser drawer. She’d always wanted to start running, but after dropping the kids off at school, rushing to and from work, evenings are the only time she has available. Most people at her office warn it’s not safe to run alone outside at night in Nairobi. But she knows she’s safer in a group.
A few months ago, she connected with a meetup of women located near her home who wanted to run a similar pace and distance, and they all wanted to run at night. At the first meetup, she hustled to the entrance of Uhuru Park, just around the corner from her apartment building, and saw the group. There were five women wearing headlamps and flashing bracelets. One woman had a neon halo, another wore glow-in-the-dark socks. It was hard to miss them; they looked like they were ready for a parade. While they ran that first night, they made up chants, little songs to keep them going. They cheered at cars, and sometimes the cars honked back.
The need to be seen, to be heard, to be understood by a circle of people who depend on each other is fundamental to what makes us human.
As the weeks passed, they continued to pressure each other to get off the couch and go, one mile at first, then eventually two. She feels safe with them — a group leaves no one behind — and they’ve become close. She has had moments of doubt. But one evening, when she thought she’d skip a run, the group met her at her house, glowing and cheering.
Tonight was special: they were going to attempt five miles down the long, flat thoroughfare of Mombasa Road. It was going to be hard, but these women have grown to be there for each other, and the pack’s energy is infectious. She slips on her running shoes and skips out the door.
It’s 9 a.m. in Berlin on Tuesday, November 30, 2027.
Ten women sit at a meetup space in Kreuzberg. In 2027, knowledge worker jobs are often done remotely, but “remote” is a misnomer. Free to live wherever they want, people from all over the world flock to neighborhoods like this because of the kinds of people who live there.
Four of the women in the meetup are new — all live within just a few blocks; two of them think they may have seen each other in passing. One of the women is an engineering leader at one of the great companies that exist in 2027 and despite her busy schedule, her AI assistant senses it’s her favorite time of the week and always blocks out this hour. She looks forward to meeting new members, as she gets to wonder and anticipate how they might change her life, or how she could change their lives.
Ten years earlier, this woman wasn’t a programmer. She was one of the millions of refugees who arrived in Germany in search of opportunity. She had a Syrian college degree in finance and considered herself lucky when she landed a job in her field after she arrived in Berlin. Frustrated with the lack of mentorship for young women at her firm, she started attending tech meetups just like this one for women learning to code. She found a community where she could share triumphs and frustrations, where they laughed and supported each other.
She remembers what it felt like to be helped, to be listened to. She remembers that moment when she could finally stop moving from border to border and rest in an apartment that was her own. She knew her creativity and ambition could stretch out once more. She just needed a group of people to share them with.
She looks at the new arrivals and smiles. They make small talk in English, with snippets of German, but code is universal. Some are further along than others in their careers, but they all share the same drive she’d had to change her career and her life. She’d found her mentor in a group like this ten years ago. Maybe it was time for her to take on someone to mentor.
It’s 2 p.m. in Karachi on Wednesday, December 1, 2027.
A man waiting for a liver transplant sits on the steps of the indoor atrium at the Lucky One Mall. People gather in groups of threes and fours to watch a performer dance with a small robotic monkey. He feels nervous but relieved to be meeting people who will know what he’s thinking, what he’s going through.
Three others are supposed to arrive: two of them have had the surgery and the other is still waiting, just like he is. In 2027, waiting lists for transplants have gotten shorter now that it’s possible to grow a liver in a lab. A decade ago, a liver transplant would have meant traveling thousands of miles to Bangkok for surgery and recuperating there for weeks. But even as the surgeries become more common, the scars are still invisible to the people you pass on the street. And imagining a laser cutting into your body is still just as terrifying.
A man walks up, checks his app, looks around, and finally sees the man on the steps. He says hello and gives the man a hug. He tells him it had been two years since his own operation. This monthly meetup was the first place he could look someone in the eye and hear that person say, “I went through it. And I’m fine.”
Then two other people arrive, and they instinctively hug each other, too. It didn’t matter if they had been through the surgery or were just starting to think about it. One man shows the others his scars. It had been six months and they were still healing, but he looks healthy and happy. Soon they are talking not of hospitals, but of the vacations they want to take, the places they want to see.
“That wasn’t so bad,” the man thinks when he gets home. “It is going to be OK.”
It’s 2 p.m. in Shenzhen on Thursday, December 2, 2027.
As she does every month, the factory worker brings her paper and pencils to the meetup space located around the corner from her tiny apartment in a giant apartment block. Now that most goods are delivered to homes by drones, storefronts are becoming meetup spaces. When they see her, the other regulars wave her over to join them, pushing an extra table over for her so she can lay out her art supplies.
City life is better than what came before, but it is also a struggle. She had been drawn to this cacophonous, disorienting megapolis by the prospect of earning money to send back to her mother and father. But ever since her parents gave her her first set of crayons, her dream had been to use her creativity, if not as a part of her job, then at least as a part of her life. She spends her days at the factory on the assembly line carefully wiping sleek, paper-thin screens with a special solvent. After work, on her own phone — older, sturdier, and boxier than the ones she handles every day — she likes to browse through art posted online by illustrators the world over.
One day, she received a message: Would you like to go to a drawing meetup this Thursday at 2 p.m.? This particular meetup didn’t actually exist yet. But after drawing meetups like it had taken off across Europe and then Asia, the network began seeking out the kinds of people who were enjoying them and then showed them how to start drawing meetups of their own. The machines were bringing people together.
China has suffered economically this past decade, and her work is grueling. But she never misses her Thursday drawing meetup. It is her place to be the person she wants to be. She can relax, have fun. Sometimes she and a few of the regulars who also work at her factory go out for bubble tea afterward. They talk about their hopes and dreams beyond their jobs, and often conversation turns back to the factory and how they could stand up to make it a better place to work. But at the meetup, they all sit quietly and draw, feeling a connection.
Each week has a theme. This week’s is “animal self-portrait.” She searches on her phone for a reference image to draw. Maybe a rabbit, or a fox? She settles on a kit fox, with its enormous ears and curious eyes. She shows the fox to the man sitting next to her and he laughs. He says he can see the resemblance. It makes her feel happy; it makes her feel seen.
It’s 6 p.m. in Houston on Friday, December 3, 2027.
Five women enter a beautifully designed community space and each is greeted at the entrance: Which meetup are you here for? They lay claim to their long table for the seven new members they’re expecting this week. This always happens the weeks after an election or a major scandal: a new cohort of women, inspired by the recent victories of women elected to school boards and city councils across Texas, are fired up to run for office.
The community space is located in an old automotive parts store in a desolate strip mall. After the city flooded a decade ago, the area was ultimately repurposed into a bustling, walkable neighborhood. New zoning laws, the first of their kind in the city, tore up parking lots and concrete barriers to reestablish floodplains, making housing and retail denser and residents more aware of their neighbors. Much of that change happened because of the leadership of one of these five women, who was now mayor of Houston, the youngest in the city’s history.
As people chose to turn toward each other, the meetup went from a niche phenomenon to a widespread cultural norm.
When she attended her first meetup more than a decade ago, the mayor didn’t even consider getting into politics. She’d felt excited and scared sitting in a room and telling this group of women she wanted to change her life. The first meetup she started showing up at was a political discussion meetup that met once a week at the meetup space in her apartment complex. Each Sunday, they’d gather over coffee and vent about the endless stream of outrages in their news feeds. She looked forward to seeing the neighbors she got to know there — some of whom started planning semiannual camping trips together — but instead of just letting off steam, the meetups made her angrier. Then one day, she got a message: There are eight women nearby who might be up for running for local office. Would you like to meet on Sunday?
It felt like a chance to make a real impact on people’s lives. At the first meetup, they talked about what it would mean to get involved, what it might feel like to run. How do you make a speech about what you believe in? How do you make others believe in you? One woman decided to run for school board; another ran for her town council. Some won, most lost, and some didn’t run at all. But they still show up every Tuesday.
Sitting down at the head of the long table, she knows she must look like a seasoned politician. But she lost the first time she ran seven years ago, and it was only with the support of the women in her meetup that she was able to regroup and run again. And when she entered city hall as mayor, she worked hard to pass the zoning reform whose effects she is starting to see now, ten years since she walked into her first meetup.
All of these stories existed in bits and pieces back in 2017. But looking back, that year was a fork in the road for humankind. We were either going to devolve into an isolated, impersonal, virtual everything species, glued to our devices, experiencing the world apart from each other and watching helplessly as poverty, intolerance, violence, and climate change made the world increasingly uninhabitable — or we were going to come together. People were going to meetup or not.
It’s not that people were hankering for an old notion of community. What emerged was a new form of community, sparked by technology to create new constellations of people — and push them offline. Machines helped bring people together to be more human. There’s something in our DNA pushing us to find each other. Grouping up makes us more resilient as a species. It gives us a safety net. In a meetup, people form bonds around a common interest, engendering empathy and trust. Within these groups, conversation flows, relationships blossom, members collaborate, and opportunities arise. The simple act of coming together creates a community with capacity; it creates a swell of support. That community holds its members accountable to one another, to act, to mentor. In 2027, people come together for the interests they share, and stay together for the joys and challenges that are universal. We celebrate a new job, mourn a dying parent, cope with divorce, coo over a new baby. We come for the benefit and stay for community.
When a billion people started to turn more toward each other, it didn’t just change their own lives. That coming together changed everyone’s lives: our towns and cities, our health and our wealth. When people everywhere can find the just right group to hike with, to bike with, to meditate with, and to experience the personal bonds that come with making community part of their routines, we embrace and maintain a healthier life. When people get connected within their line of work, they can help each other learn new skills and find new opportunities. They meet and hire the best talent, and they find the right jobs. It means “who you know” can be about showing up rather than pedigree, which creates a more level playing field and a widespread sense of fairness and trust.
Most importantly a contagion of resiliency and powerfulness emerged. In 2027 a billion people meetup regularly — in new connected spaces that form a new commons — with a circle of people they care for and who care for them. People show up for each other, businesses are born, bands are born, babies are born, and a new world emerges.
Who would have thought, just a decade ago, that life on this planet would, so quickly, become so much in bloom? But it has.