Why do our visualisations of concepts and places grow, shrink or warp depending on our understanding of something? From diagrams and maps to spatial awareness and emotion, there is one thing that links and distorts them all: expectation.
Time is not as linear as we think. Memory, emotion and the curiosity of thoughts can warp it beyond recognition. When processing time psychologically, space and time are often thought of as static dimensions that can be measured by instruments such as clocks or rulers. However, our subjective experiences, depending on what stimuli are present, allow space and time to be malleable.
For example, think of the street you live on, which you presumably see every day. Visualise the entrance to the building of the house opposite yours, now look outside your window. Was it how you imagined? Get a piece of paper and draw the map of what is around you without looking at a published map. When you’re done, list the landmarks that you have drawn, then, take out the published map and compare the two while making mental notes of differences in size, name—anything. Go back to your list, and mull over reasons as to why those places stand out. What happened there to make them do so?
Even after we have learned the truth of a misconception, in this case by comparing our two maps, our errors tend to persist. Our experience within our world defies much of the logic required to make accurate decisions. I will go more into this later, but geographer Anthony Robinson of Penn State University told the National Geographic that he thinks “it must have something to do with both the limits of our observable perception of space and time, and the fact that we are disrupting that constantly with technology and methods of transportation and things that compress those things and make them nonfactors.”
When I was a child, I lived with my parents for a few months in a tent that I thought was the size of a castle by day. We were panning for gold (which in mining terms, is to separate particles of greater gravity from soil or gravel by washing it all in a pan with water) along the Zambezi River. The tent’s zip didn’t work. Through the gaping door, the night was especially large around my fortress, and it was ferociously flapping its way in with the wind.
Years later, I stood the same tent up. It was not only spattered with tiny holes, but boxlike. The zip was still broken and its entrance now flapping in a different, duller breeze, bared the thought of a child peering out. I was confronted with the truth of a misconception, the tent’s size was logically deemed to feel bigger for a smaller human, but now with the tent packed back up again and miles away, the castle in its enormity remains vividly more truthful.
What we choose to contain in our memories passes through what could be seen as our own organisational web, practiced paths to positive or negative memories we habitually go back to, grow. We go back to them because of a yearning to either rationalise actions or to pick apart words—and we tend to go back to what we do not understand. Subconsciously, our minds will create schemas (patterns of repeated behaviour in order to find meaning) that enable us to fabricate ideals that facilitate the memory into being more understandable, even if defying logic.
These inaccurate decisions help us feel less afraid of the memory we, prior to our fabrications, didn’t understand. The need to do this could go as far as to affect our survival, or our want to survive. Similarly to how we connect with escapism, as we age, an aspect of what is ingrained in us as children becomes a coping mechanism—but one we seem to be at war with. Escapism introduced us to the imagination. By not seeing or seeing what is not allowed us to reason with concepts we were uncomfortable with.
To go back to my castle, I was living a life that never stood still, not just physically. Roots were laid, then dug up, laid, then dug up, laid, dug up again, until they did not seem to grow anymore. What could be more secure against the darkness, sturdy against the wind and heavy enough to never be moved, than a castle? So this is what my memory had built.
The experience we have with what happens around us moves at different speeds too, the now blinks past, but a striking conversation from five minutes ago could take years to pass. We also stretch the absence of content more than content itself, such as what we wish we could have said or done over what we did. There are certain triggers that morph memory and time, one of those things is music—an escapism that fills the time, or empties and numbs it. One that connects us with memory, or acts as a canvas for our fabrications.
Daniel Levitin recalled the first memory he has of listening to music in his book The Brain on Music. His mother was playing the piano, he remembers being transported to sensory places he had never been, “Time seemed to stand still while the music was playing.” He questioned this realisation, how does expectation lead to experience of emotion in music? How do we recognise songs we have never heard before?
Levitin says that a song compromises a very specific and vivid set of memory cues. The cues assume a context that is encoded along the course of your life, but cross-coded with varying events at each moment the song is played. The music becomes linked to time, and events are linked to music. The more context a particular cue or sound is associated with, the less effective it will be at surfacing a memory. He goes as far as saying that memory affects the music-listening experience so profoundly that it would not be hyperbole to say that without memory there would be no music. Music works because we remember the tones we have just heard and relate them to the ones being played.
Decisions we make daily are triggered by deeply rooted memories, experiences live on. We expect them to. The importance of memory is to not allow expectation to delude our understanding by our mental meddling in order to understand. Confront the truth, but if a tent grows into a castle in order to reason or survive, I think that is ok too.
We’ve all been there. Coming home after a gruelling workday to an empty apartment. Some of us might be greeted by a roommate we may or may not tolerate, although that does not guarantee we’ll be spared the horror of dozing off to Netflix alone in our room with our tummies full to the brim and a stubborn thirst for human interaction.
Cities now house over 4 billion people across the world, and their density is only expected to increase in the coming decades. Yet while cities offer an ever-expanding range of business, networking, and creative opportunities, they also spawn unmatched feelings of loneliness among its residents. Global co-living developer and operator The Collective offers a tangible solution to urban isolation in a growing number of cities around the world—currently running one successful communal living site in London, with a second due to open in Canary Wharf in September, and one in New York City. The 300-strong team is headquartered across New York, London and Berlin, and has raised more than $850 million to fund its growth across the U.S., U.K and continental Europe.
Founded in 2010 by Reza Merchant, The Collective seeks to create a new landscape of urban living—one that is affordable, sustainable, safe, and integrated. One of The Collective’s primary goals is tackling the isolation prevalent in cities and utilising their facilities and resources in order to foster a growing community of people from diverse backgrounds who interact with one another in various spheres and are engaged with their surroundings.
The urban loneliness pandemic becomes a mental health hazard in a growing number of cities. A report compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that two in ten adults in the U.S. reported loneliness or isolation, with 50 percent of those claiming they had either one close friend or none whatsoever. A different survey by the insurance company Cigna reported that young adults between the ages of 18 to 22 are in fact the loneliest generation, while in London 52 percent of residents feel lonely, according to a 2013 survey by ComRes.
This widespread loneliness results from a confluence of factors. In part, this is a side-effect of our culture and lifestyle, namely our device addiction and workaholism. To a great extent, however, such loneliness is caused by urban planning traditions that perpetuate segregation and thwart social interaction, through the elimination of communal spaces like parks, gardens, and city squares. The Collective strives to eradicate this phenomenon through its unique design, programmes, and events.
The Collective buildings combine private units and communal spaces, thus encouraging social interaction while maintaining the members’ sense of privacy. Among these are co-working spaces to which members have access 24/7, and where they can merge their career development with networking and socialising opportunities.
“We’ve welcomed members from all walks of life, with each getting much more than just a roof over their head,” Reza Merchant, The Collective’s founder and CEO, told Screen Shot, adding that, “Their shared experiences enrich each other’s lives, whether that be collaborating on work, forming new friendships, falling in love, or just simply hearing different stories over dinner”.
In addition, The Collective hosts various events and workshops at its facilities—from music gigs to coding bootcamp—to which residents can join, often free of charge.
The Collective’s agenda of tackling urban loneliness doesn’t end within the confines of its buildings, however. Through The Collective Foundation, their non-profit arm, the organisation operates and funds outreach and social empowerment missions in urban communities around the world, promoting social equality and engagement, as well as economic opportunities, health, well-being, and sustainability.
“One of our key themes is Social Integration,” The Foundation’s director Andre Damian told Screen Shot, adding that, “The Foundation supports initiatives that create opportunities for people from different backgrounds to meet each other, and that help to break down the barriers that exclude people from participating fully in society”.
Referring to the The Foundation’s effort to uplift The Collective’s surrounding communities and integrate them with the initiative’s residents, Damian stated that, “At our first co-living scheme in Old Oak, West London, we stitched the development into the existing fabric of the neighbourhood and created shared amenities that both our members and local people could enjoy, such as a canalside bar and restaurant and a range of spaces which can be hired out for free. Currently, those spaces are used for a variety of activities for local people, including yoga classes and community meetings”.
Damian adds that, “In the near future, we hope to support initiatives in every city and neighbourhood that The Collective has, or will have a presence in. We will launch volunteering and giving programmes that will allow members to have an opportunity to give back to their community and feel a stronger sense of belonging to it”.
In both the U.K. and the U.S., those most affected by loneliness in cities are low income and marginalised communities, with municipalities repeatedly discriminating against them in resource allocation and funding of communal spaces projects. The Collective has set a mission to tackle this problem by empowering communities that are susceptible to isolation and neglect. “In London we are currently supporting InCommon,” says Damian, “a social enterprise that bridges generational divides and tackles loneliness amongst older people by taking groups of primary school children into retirement homes to learn from their elders. Globally, we’ve supported a Brazilian non-profit that promotes LGBT+ inclusion and a platform in South Africa that brought new mothers together”.
Eradicating urban loneliness and isolation will take drastic shifts in attitude by the residents of communities, the authorities in charge of urban planning and resource allocation, as well as corporations, entrepreneurs, and developers who, through their investment, have enormous power to craft both the physical and social landscape of cities. It is initiatives such as The Collective, however, that do not only raise these issues to the surface, but also provide practical and holistic solutions—showing us that tight-knit urban communities can, and should, become a reality.
This is the third article of a three-part series looking at co-living and what the future of this new trend will hold.