In ancient times before February 2020, we, the people, chose – we’ll leave the free will aspect of choice for different day of frolicking through the philosophical worm holes of the universe – to live in communities broadly determined by physical proximity to the things that we need or want. Work, family, study, services, our real or imagined roots and so on play a major part in where we could or have had to live. While there will always be a need for physical proximity to many of these things, the pandemic of 2020 has sparked a rapid re-imagining of the physical communities we involved ourselves in order to become semi-virtual environments.
There are approximately 6.38 people, according to my in-depth internet research, left in the world that have not figured out that most of us can live our lives further away from a daily grind than was the case prior to the rise of the Rona Sapien. Will we want to work from a domestic situation every day? Probably not. We are social beings after all. Is it likely that there will not be a full correction back to a five day office or class commute from the times before “pandemic” entered the daily lexicon? Yes. This is all old news, now. But it got me to thinking about the drivers for community formation within the student population. Student housing has historically had to be located near the centre for learning, if you are studying at a university or college, you’re very likely to have chosen to live close by or already come from the area. Immersion in the best years of your life aka “student life” required proximity to your centre of learning. As an added bonus, you would be surrounded by students with common academic and, ahem, extra-curricular interests.
Academic kinship is useful for comparing notes, democratizing the pursuit of knowledge amongst classmates and building relationships based on common academic ground. Now a student from anywhere in the world with an internet connection can attend class at the University of Chicago, for example, and they would still be able to form academic bonds with other classmates. But what of the equally important extra-curricular benefits: meeting new people and partaking of an enjoyable organic beverage or substance with them while setting the world to rights, relocating the local street signs (by accident, of course), meeting new romantic interests and being shot down in flames… Students no longer need to be close to the seat of learning to form communities. They are bound less by physical proximity to where they learn but, and I’m taking an educated guess here, are still bound to the life expectations that surrounds their academic pursuit. Our imaginary student attending virtual class at Chicago U may not be in the Windy City but will still want the flavour of student life. Maybe our student wants to still have a physically shared experience with other students studying similar things even if they are studying at Dehli or London or Sydney? Given a nice-shared living environment and the chance to compare notes over a non-virtual cup of coffee away from the home environment, our student would likely jump at the chance.
And so, this futurist is wandering whether the extra-curricular needs of our student will ultimately determine that our student will still seek out accommodation that fulfills those social wants and needs even if that accommodation is further away from the centre for learning. The need for communities to be formed is as strong as ever but a good internet connection allows coherent student communities to form around common interests and themes rather than academically related buildings – it is, after all, a physical manifestation of the decentralization of the academic classroom.