Intro: Finding Our Place
"Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations." — Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835)
Community is making a comeback.
It's not that church attendance is up; it's down. Or that the Elks Club is booming; it isn't. But a new generation is creating its own type of community.
The communities that defined and bonded older generations - from organized religion to country clubs to the Elks Club - have experienced membership declines.
We thought that we could build new communities online that could replace our the ones we’d built in real life (IRL), but we were wrong. As internet usage has gone up and face time has gone down, we've become more isolated, depressed, and in some cases, violent. We are as unhappy as we have been in a long time.
Instead of replacing the need for face-to-face interaction, our internet overdose has actually made that need more acute.
But as any good entrepreneur knows, problems are just untapped opportunities. The internet enables us to do certain things - order groceries, access information, window shop - more quickly and efficiently than ever.
If we let it, it will free up time for us to be with each other, to volunteer, to establish new communities, and to develop ourselves. Because reconnecting IRL is not just about making us happier; it's about helping us find meaning, purpose, personal growth, networks, opportunities, and belonging in a world that has radically and rapidly changed.
Entrepreneurs are embracing the untapped opportunity that offline community represents. Millennials and Gen Z, who were supposed to eschew the real world in favor of the internet, are embracing a new generation of IRL Member Communities that unite us around shared identities, shared interests, and our innate desire to hang out, help out, and grow.
Soho House, founded in 1994 to bring together creatives, is the OG of the new wave of social clubs. It has over 70,000 members, with nearly 30,000 more on the waitlist. Soho House is a beautiful space to spend time around creative people, but it doesn't offer deep communal bonds.
Over the past five years, though, a new batch of IRL Member Communities including The Wing, Ethel's Club, Chief, and South Park Commons, has sprung up, created by and for Millennials and Gen Z. They offer belonging that is deepened by a shared identity or shared interest. And as we'll see, they're just getting started.
These clubs start out seeming like fun diversions, but they are the very beginning of an important movement, one with the support of large macro trends. Having adjusted to life with the internet, we are now finding an online-offline equilibrium: a balance between what is best done online and what is best done IRL.
We’re finally building with a full toolkit. By thoughtfully combining the best of what technology and the real world have to offer, we will find new ways to learn, become healthier, and connect with each other.
Over four posts, I'm going to explore why this is happening now, which clubs are leading the charge, the factors that will allow this nascent trend to grow, and what the future could look like when we've reached an online-offline equilibrium.
Here's how the posts will break down:
We are spending more time on the internet and less time together, IRL, and it’s making us unhappy. But we are starting to find a balance: doing what is best done online, online, and what is best done IRL, IRL.
IRL needs place. A new generation is building spaces alongside the communities they are forming.
Like any good movement, this isn't happening in isolation. Three trends will accelerate our use of offline spaces for community building: The Death of Retail, The Experience Economy, and Work's New Job.
Part 4: The World in Equilibrium
Finding a balance between online and offline opens up exciting possibilities to rethink the way that we learn, build, create, relate, and grow.