Once upon a time there were three grandmothers. Doreen, Dotty and Carol (you couldn’t make it up if you tried). They all lived happily in their own flats until one day they were told they had to self-isolate. All in their 70s and friends for at least 40 years, they decided it would be much more fun to isolate together. First of all they agreed to wait out a week alone to check they did not have the virus, then they moved in together. It was a form of co-isolation to combat loneliness. As well having to agree on which home to move into – the one which afforded the most private space but also room to exercise and eat together – they made sure they had Netflix and quite a bit of wine.
So what will these ladies do after the virus has dissipated? Will they pool their resources and set up home in the larger of the homes? Will they live together happily ever after? The strange thing is that when looked at through the eyes and experience of social isolation, the whole individualism trend sometimes can seem like a vain indulgence. Writing in the New York Times, David Brooks points out the great paradox is that we had to be set apart in order to feel together. It’s like, he reminds us, when you’re starving, and food is all you can think about. Suddenly everybody has human connection on the top of mind. But will it last? Will we gravitate to more co-living rather than co-isolation?
If we want to be optimistic we would say that social solidarity is tenacious. That we will have learnt that we will continue to need an active commitment to the common good beyond the fallout of the virus — not only private but our public lives. We will perhaps come to see that co-living has more to offer than economies of scale, more to give than shared terraces and kitchens where you can flirt and cook with your neighbour. We will see the potential of co-living through the lens of those who have spent many weeks or even months alone. We will get a taste of the fact that the benefits of a communally cooked and shared meal linger long after the plate is clean.