My good friend Ben Asch asked me the following questions on Facebook last week:
As an optimist, I tend to view most changes in human social institutions as positive. While it is the case that the rise of “shared living arrangements” (“SLA”) will likely result in a class of adults that cannot cook or clean, they will also have additional time to develop new skill sets or deepen those they already possess. As you suggest, SLAs will further human specialization.
I suspect however, that cooking (and even cleaning) skills will not be lost permanently. I tend to view most changes in human social institutions as cyclical rather than uni-directional. As fewer folks cook, more specialized cooks will emerge, some will work at WeLive, other SLAs or as we deregulate the restaurant industry perhaps food trucks, hawker stalls, as well as traditional restaurant concepts.
As robots and replicators further develop and the need for people to engage in cooking and cleaning diminishes, I suspect that people will want to cook. Cooking might end up more like sport fishing, a group of dedicated hobbyists keep the tradition alive, but the will to catch fish rather than farm raise them is a desire rather necessity. The transition from necessity to desire is one that I’ve observed across the labor and product space throughout the economy and tends to be cyclical.
One way of looking at SLA might be to reflect on the life of DS9’s Captain Benjamin Sisko. Ben Sisko grew up New Orleans, Louisiana in the year 2332. His father ran a restaurant, “Sisko’s Creole Kitchen,” by this point in history, people had eliminated food scarcity. The invention of the replicator saw to this. In 2332, restaurants run by humans are no longer necessary, nonetheless they were still places that people enjoyed visiting to socialize with friends or gossip the proprietor.
For those that retain rare skills, you’ll always have the benefit of looking cute.
As far as whether we should or shouldn’t fiddle with the tax code, I don’t know. I’m not sure we should encourage or discourage group living relative to any other living method. Speculating a bit, given that modern society can in some ways be isolating, a good argument could be made for encouraging SLAs to lessen loneliness (especially as we age). For many in the internet age, human contact offline may be limited. SLAs can provide people with a stronger sense of community. Community has been a driving force throughout history. I’m confident that the desire to eat with other folks that you like will continue to be part of our future too. If some of us are spending less time in the kitchen, and more time in the music production room, art studio, co-working spaces, starships or laboratories and are furthering their passions, I’m for it.