Loneliness Is a Big Problem

On Facebook, my friend Tyler writes:

Lately, I've been having an alarming amount of conversations arise about the burdens of loneliness, alienation, rootlessness, and a lack of belonging that many of my peers feel, especially in the Bay Area. I feel it too. Everyone has a gazillion friends and events to attend. But there's a palpable lack of social fabric. I worry that this atomization is becoming a world-wide phenomenon – that we might be some of the first generations without the sort of community that it's in human nature to rely on.

And that the result is a worsening epidemic of mental illness...

Without the framework of a uniting religion, ethnicity, or purpose, it's hard to get people to truly commit to a given community. Especially when it's so easy to swipe left and opt for things that offer the fleeting feeling of community without being the real thing: the parties, the once-a-month lecture series, the Facebook threads, the workshops, the New Age ceremonies. We often use these as "community porn" – they're easier than the real thing and they satisfy enough of the craving. But they don't make you whole.

I've had some thoughts about experiments to try. But then I think about how hard it is (especially in this geographic area) to get people to show up to something on at least a weekly basis. Even if it's for something really great. I see many great attempts at community slowly peter out.

Young people are lonely. Old people are lonely. Loneliness is bad for your health. It's bad for society's health.

Having a smartphone that keeps you entertained all day, and enough money to live by yourself, might sound like first world problems. But they are likely contributors to loneliness. And as developing countries get richer, they'll start having first world problems too. So I think addressing loneliness could be very high-leverage for the world.

People are starting businesses to address loneliness: you can pay someone to call you periodically or take you for a walk. But I'd argue these services are a band-aid in the same sense that parties, workshops, and ceremonies are. They don't solve the underlying problem: You're still alone by default instead of together by default.

Roommates Could Be a Great Solution

Sociologists think there are three conditions necessary for making friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other. These conditions tend to be present during college for many people, but not afterwards.

Why do people find it easier to make friends in college? Maybe it's because college students don't usually live alone.

Going to events doesn't work because (a) you don't typically get repeated interactions with the same person and (b) events take place at a scheduled time. Which may or may not be a time you're feeling lonely.

If you have a lot of roommates, all you have to do is step outside your room and find someone to chat with. No transportation CO2 emissions needed. But more important, you know your roommates are always gonna be around.

But I Already Have Roommates

Even if you already have roommates, I think there's a good chance your roommate situation is under-optimized. Given that you spend so much time with them, there's a lot of value in living with people you really connect with. (Finding great coworkers makes sense for similar reasons.)

The layout of your house and the number of roommates you have can also make a big difference. I used to have friends living in a 4-bedroom place where all the bedrooms opened directly into a single large common area. If anyone else was outside their room, you'd immediately know it and have an opportunity for interaction. Later I lived in an 8-bedroom place which felt far lonelier, even with every room occupied. The house was laid out so it was easy to go about your day without ever running into a fellow roommate. I also lived in a house with over 50 bedrooms for a while, which was wild & a lot of fun.

But I Don't Want Roommates

One reason you might not want roommates is because you're worried you might have conflicting preferences for what living together should be like. For example, my philosophy towards dirty dishes is to let them pile up on the counter and periodically stuff them all in the dishwasher, to be as time-efficient as possible. Surprisingly, some people dislike this approach.

RoomieMatch.com is a website which tries to solve the roommate compatibility problem. You create a profile by answering questions about dishes, food in the fridge, housecleaning, social events, noise, overnight guests, shared household items, walking around in your underwear, TV, etc. In addition, there are questions to help predict how you well you will connect as people.

You Could Make a Lot of Money

RoomieMatch has two search options: free and cheap. Cheap costs $20/year.

The problem with RoomieMatch is they're leaving a massive amount of money on the table.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was jobless & struggling financially. He was living in a 4-bedroom house at the time, and he was the primary contact with the landlord. My friend took responsibility for vetting folks from Craigslist in order to fill the remaining rooms in the house. He found that folks from Craigslist were willing to pay enough rent for the remaining 3 rooms that he was able to live rent-free until he found a job.

I acknowledge this is murky ethical territory, and I'm not condoning my friend's actions. (I don't believe anyone ever found out or got upset, for whatever that's worth.) The point I'm trying to make is that property management is way more lucrative than roommate matching. RoomieMatch makes $20 per user per year at best. My friend was making $100+ per user per month.

What I'm suggesting is that you take the full-stack startup playbook which has been successful in Silicon Valley recently, and apply it to online roommate matching + property management.

The extreme full-stack approach is to own your own properties. Apparently the US has a surplus of big houses right now.

There are already players in this space such as Roam which are proving that people will pay for community. (As if people paying extra to live in hip cities like SF & NYC didn't prove that already. BTW, I found that the awesome community at the Athena Hotel more than made up for the fact that it's in a non-hip city.) Anyway, I think existing players are mostly pursuing the extreme full-stack option. I actually think this is the wrong play. You want to be a marketplace, like Airbnb (valued at over $30 billion). The more people who are using your tool, the finer-grained roommate matching services you can provide. It's hard to achieve massive scale if you have to own every property. You want to be playing matchmaker for individuals with common interests who all happen to be looking for rooms around the same time, plus landlords with empty houses. Maybe you'll want to undercut RoomieMatch, and provide free matching services for people who live in their properties, in order to achieve the necessary scale. (RoomieMatch's existing scale is impressive by the way--I quickly got 100+ active, vetted matches in a midsize US city when I tried the tool. If you have the money you might want to just buy it.)

So instead of buying properties, maybe you just want to contact people selling large homes & see if you can convince them to let you manage their property.

Note that this is a good company to start if a recession happens, since people who currently live alone will be thinking about how to save on rent.

This Could Be Really Great

Most roommate search tools, like Craigslist, don't make it easy to figure out if a future roommate is someone you'd actually want to live with. Imagine reaching a scale where you could match people based on factors like:

  • They love to play board games, or pool, or Super Smash Bros.

  • They want a compost pile and a garden in their backyard.

  • One has a pet, and the other likes animals but isn't yet ready to make a lifetime commitment.

  • They want a squat rack in the basement to save time & money going to the gym.

  • They want to continue partying like college students after graduation.

  • They want to be part of an intentional community devoted to mutual improvement and life optimization, or spirituality, or whatever.

  • They want to share childcare responsibilities.

  • They're all fans of the same sports team.

  • They enjoy reading and discussing the same genre of novels, or watching the same movies.

  • They're musicians looking for people to jam with.

  • They want to live near hiking trails and go on group hikes together.

  • They want to do independent study of the same topic.

  • They're trying to eat a healthier diet.

  • They just moved to a new city and want friends they can explore the city with.

  • They have the same unusual work schedule.

  • One needs a caretaker, and the other wants to make extra money.

  • They like the idea of having a couch or two listed on CouchSurfing.

  • One knows a language the other wants to learn.

  • They work close together in the same expensive metropolitan area and want save on housing. So they live in the outskirts of the city and commute together every day using the diamond lane. One drives and the other pays for gas.

I also see opportunities to reduce friction in the current roommate matching process:

  • Automatically find times when everyone is available for a meet & greet video call.

  • Let people take virtual tours of the houses on offer to minimize driving.

  • No need to worry about breaking a lease if someone moves to a different house in your company's network. Let people try out a few communities & see what works for them. Use machine learning to improve your matching as you gather more data.

  • Provide external mediation in the event of roommate disputes, and have a reputation system to encourage good behavior.

You aren't providing housing as a service (like Airbnb), or companionship as a service (like the people-walking startup). You're providing community as a service. You could even organize mixers across your houses.


Technology has been blamed for the loneliness epidemic, but I think we can use technology to cure the loneliness epidemic as well.

I'm too busy being obsessed with machine learning to start any company which isn't mostly about that. But I think this is a product the world needs, and I want you to build it. I encourage you to sign the Founders Pledge and donate the money to effective charities in case you actually end up making billions of dollars as a result of reading this.

I apologize if you found the tone of this post overly sales-y. My goal was to light a spark in the right person. (Feel free to steal phrases from this post when pitching investors!)

Some folks in the rationalist community might be a little underwhelmed by this idea, since people in the rationalist community have been living together in group houses for a long time. The thing is, finding roommates by connecting based on mutual interests via the internet is still kind of weird in the eyes of the general public. As Paul Graham put it: "Live in the future, then build what's missing." The existence of so many lonely people proves that this option is still missing for most people.

Anyway, if you're interested in building/investing in this, please comment below, or send me a private message via my user page with the country you're in and I'll put you in contact with others who message me. (Edit: I might be slow to reply, sorry)

Cross-posted from the Effective Altruism Forum. See also discussion on Hacker News.

New Comment
32 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

Sociologists think there are three conditions necessary for making friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.

To me these sound more like conditions for making acquaintances, which leads to exactly the emptiness you describe. A true friend isn't just someone you spend time with, it's someone who won't betray you. Maybe true friendship requires going through some hardship together, learning from experience that the other person won't betray you. And maybe there's even a startup idea about setting up such experiences :-)

But community isn't about friends; it's about a background level of acquaintances you're comfortable with.

I see "friendship" as basically requiring both. Someone recently asked me "how do people become friends" and I said: "Step one: have lots of sporadic, unplanned opportunities to bump into each other and figure out if you like each other in low stakes situations. Step two: go to Mordor together."

I think the key here is "making friends". Those conditions merely give you the opportunity to create and grow relationships. Sure, roommates and coworkers are not all going to become friends but a lot of friends come from roommates and coworkers.

Interesting points. However, consider the possibility that your perspective on this is colored by the fact that you are from Russia :P

Maybe I’m wrong but this sounds an awful lot like Bungalow, which is sort of like WeWork but for housing with roommates.

The emphasis is on roommate fit and building ongoing community. For the landlord, Bungalow handles all property management. They have thousands of units already, growing quickly.

Nice! For anyone who found my world improvement/money-making pitch persuasive, it looks like Bungalow is hiring, especially in the Toronto area: https://bungalow.com/careers

There are already at least three companies in this space: RoomieMatch, Roomi, and Roomster. I wonder why nobody I know uses them, but dating apps are very popular?

It seems to me that the triangulation, trust, and transfer problems in roommate matching that go beyond what OKCupid has to deal with:

  • There are more than two people involved, and the difficulty of finding communal compatibility complexifies geometrically with the number of roommates.
  • By the same token, people moving in and out happens more frequently with larger numbers of room mates, often with short notice, making it hard to keep a stable equilibrium of preferences.
  • Imagine if it was easy to "date your future housemates," perhaps by living together for a month. It's already emotionally painful for people to deal with or inflict rejection in one-on-one dating. Imagine being the "odd man out" in this situation. That sounds like a recipe for really uncomfortable social dynamics.
  • Land lords often influence or even entirely control the process of finding new room mates. There are also laws around evictions that make it very difficult to kick somebody out if its not working for others, whereas there are no legal barriers to breaking up with someone you're dating if there's no marriage and no kids.
  • There's a much higher effort and commitment barrier required to move than to go on a date.
  • This is speculative, but OKCupid's success may stem from capitalizing on a cultural institution that makes romantic love feel of vast importance. By contrast, finding an ideal group of room mates doesn't have the same cultural importance: we still dream of having our own place by ourselves or with our own biological family. To have comparable success, such a service would need to create a new dream. Even if that's your dream, is it the dream of your housemates?
  • Similarly, the service OKCupid provides may be less in matching people with compatible characteristics, and more in identifying an abundance of single people and getting them hyped to go on a date. The purpose of the "matching" is to trick you into building up anticipation, not to ensure a really good fit (after all, if it did that too well, people wouldn't come back for more!). Instinct, hormones, and love do most of the work of making people stick together in the end.
  • When people do try and start intentional group houses, they're often organized around a shared social movement, which already have word-of-mouth and social media channels where people can learn about these opportunities for free.

I think a company would do better to work on solving one or more of these problems.

I wonder why nobody I know uses them, but dating apps are very popular?

I think you should be careful with this style of reasoning, because you can use it to explain away any sort of exploitable market inefficiency. For example, prior to Airbnb, we could ask: Why don't people offer spare rooms in their house to strangers for cash on a temporary basis? And in response, we could generate many valid answers: People are uncomfortable with strangers staying in their house. The strangers could steal something or break something. There may be relevant zoning laws, and established players (hotel chains) who will try to shut you down using regulatory force. Etc. I believe these are all, in fact, issues that Airbnb has faced. Y Combinator hesitated to fund Airbnb due to the "uncomfortable with strangers staying in their house" thing, but in the end, they decided to go forward because they liked how scrappy the founders were. Of course, it paid off massively, and Airbnb is now one of the most valuable companies in Y Combinator's portfolio.

I agree there are challenges in the roommate matching space which aren't present in the dating space. But there are also challenges in the dating space which aren't present to the same degree in the roommate matching space. (Who's going to want to date weirdos who need the internet for romance? How do you deal with user harassment? How are online profiles supposed to predict that ineffable romantic spark when so much depends on behavioral and perhaps pheromone-related factors? Etc.)

But there's a big reason why this opportunity is a lot more attractive than online dating: The possibility of making a lot more money per user. Remember most OKCupid users aren't paying, and paying users only bring in $10-20 per month. Furthermore, you can keep making money even after a match has been made, whereas with online dating, once you successfully match someone and they delete your app, you're done. If people are willing to pay say an extra $100/month for great roommates, which seems totally plausible given they are already paying that to live in a somewhat more hip part of their city, it becomes worth your while to overcome a lot of problems.

Many of your points are barriers to shared housing in general, not barriers to this service in particular. I would argue that if done right, the service I'm proposing actually offers the potential to greatly mitigate a lot of the hurdles you describe.

  • You write: "There are more than two people involved, and the difficulty of finding communal compatibility complexifies geometrically with the number of roommates." Yes, determining compatibility among N roommates is an O(N-squared) operation. But the constant factor matters a great deal. With the existing roommate matching system, each pair of potential roommates has to meet and spend substantial time together before moving in, or there's incompatibility risk. With the thing I'm describing, we could have a statistical model which gets rid of a lot of the uncertainty up front, in a few seconds of computer time at most.

  • You write: "By the same token, people moving in and out happens more frequently with larger numbers of room mates, often with short notice, making it hard to keep a stable equilibrium of preferences." The number of roommates stays the same whether or not we are using the internet to coordinate: In each case, it's the number of rooms in the house. Since a hypothetical roommate matching service has a birds-eye view of everyone who's searching for rooms, it can deal better with managing house cultural changes in a sensible way when multiple rooms open up at once. You could even do sophisticated stuff which is infeasible in the current system, like identifying roommate compatibility clusters and matching them with houses of the right size.

  • I agree "dating housemates" has to be handled carefully. However, note that first, this isn't even possible with the existing system because there's too much paperwork involved in signing & breaking leases in order to try out different houses. (Or more realistically, the unpaid volunteer group house leaders in the existing system don't want to deal with the necessary overhead.) Anyway, worst case you can just leave it out of the plan. Second, I think it could work just fine if you had 3 established houses which each had an empty room and someone wanted to try living in each house for 1 month. I don't think the residents of the 2 houses which weren't chosen would have their feelings hurt to a significant degree.

  • I agree you'd want to talk to a lawyer and figure out the best legal arrangement for the service to use. But better roommate compatibility predictions means this should be less of an issue to start with. Same for the higher effort and commitment barrier point. These are points in favor of a more sophisticated matching system, not against.

  • I don't think a new dream is a prerequisite. People who move to a new city already want to make new friends, and living in various houses for brief periods can help with that goal. And people are already having fewer kids. That said, the baugruppe idea probably does require a cultural shift.

  • I tried to start a group house recently, but gave up after realizing it would be too much work to find people and stuff. I wish a service like what I describe existed.

Shared housing is already a multi-billion dollar market despite the hurdles you mention. People find roommates on Craigslist etc. all the time. If you can capture 10% of the existing shared housing market, that's a multi-billion dollar opportunity right there, which should easily put you among the top ten Effective Altruist donors. If you're able to expand the shared housing market, that's gravy from a financial perspective.

Finally, I want point out that I actually did posit a shift in the underlying economic factors which could make this a profitable opportunity now even if it wasn't in the past: The increase in loneliness. In other words, a billion-dollar bill may have appeared on the sidewalk just recently. See also this blog post.

Take my thoughts less as objections and more as opportunities. If a business can solve many or most of them, they might prosper. No reason to think it’s impossible to improve on the current rental industry, but you’d want to think through the current set of issues methodically.

AirBnb doesn’t promise anything more than a regular hotel experience in a new setting. OKCupid doesn’t promise anything at all really, except a supply of singles looking to date.

We already have robust services that supply both rental properties and people looking for housemates (the roommate equivalents of AirBnb and OKCupid).

It strikes me that the value you’re suggesting a company could provide is a positive housemate experience, achieved through some sort of algorithm or a setup in which housemates could somehow try each other out as housemates in a flexible way before they commit.

I am highly skeptical of the idea that even the most sophisticated algorithmic matching software can provide better housemate relationships through better matching than is already available. I don’t think any dating apps match people well romantically. The most effective approach with them is to just go on a lot of dates and see if anyone clicks.

It would be more interesting to me if a company figured out a way where people could move in together, stay as long as they liked, move out, try another group, with minimal hassle.

Perhaps an apartment building with pods of furnished rooms connected to a common area. People make profiles, get on the waiting list for an open pod, and the current pod mates can vote on who they want to accept next. They can’t kick out a pod mate they don’t like, but they could switch away to a different pod.

The rates are hotel prices, maybe double what the house normally rents for. When an entire pod clicks, they can move out at their leisure to a rental apartment or house.

It seems to me that this could add value to a typical hotel experience, while using a similar business model. AirBnb already provides a solution to the trust problem of strangers cohabitating.

If this kind of business existed in my city at an affordable price, I might try it. Hotels are about twice as expensive as rental apartments, though, so I imagine this would be a pretty costly investment.

You’d want lots of options for people to live with, which necessitates owning a lot of rental properties.

To avoid that problem, perhaps you could connect with landlords, offering them a cut of the profits in exchange for partnering with your service. You help them manage the properties, to cut the hassle for the landlord, and they’re able to charge higher rates, closer to hotel prices, in exchange for granting this level of flexibility to their renters.

My estimate is that you could raise prices by $4,000/mo on a six bedroom house, with the landlord keeping 25%-50% of the increase. You’d need to give them an incentive to take on an extra potential hassle and try something new.

I suppose there’s merit in a more detailed sorting algorithm. OKCupid may not be able to detect your soul mate, but it helps prevent a match between a 57 year old gay man in Seattle and a 22 year old lesbian in Austin, which is useful. I imagine a better algorithm could at least prevent mismatches like these.

The challenge is that you’d need to ensure a steady stream of clients. Otherwise, the property owners might lose money despite the higher rates. This could be hard if a pod was occupied by a person with an unpopular profile.

Perhaps you could rely on the high rates of the service to eventually incentivize them to move out. You could also put temporarily lower rates on unoccupied rooms to incentivize people to move in.

This service would probably also need to deal with people treating it like a hotel, which could dilute the utility for people treating it as a room mate try before you buy service. You could partly solve that with branding. In any case, a paying client is a good client.

Putting aside the technological requirements of the product, and the big investment an individual would have to make in order to carry this forth. Your premise is that there's a crisis of loneliness and the solution is to have people live with each other. I just don't see how that's evident.

Furthermore, you talk about AirBNB (stands for airbed and breakfast) which started as making a bed (airbed) and breakfast for a guest, a stranger, in your house! most of the interviews I read/listen about those guys (I think Brian Chesky it's a quite interesting character) they had not idea about what they were making at the beginning, now they have the beneffit of hindsight and the product is definitely not based on house-sharing.

I think more of what AllAmericanBreakfast talks about is closer to a solution to the "lonely" crisis

When people do try and start intentional group houses, they're often organized around a shared social movement, which already have word-of-mouth and social media channels where people can learn about these opportunities for free.

Besides that, I do see value in making something easier which now is somewhat hard, although I don't think the defining feature of the product would be to mix people who like the same food, game, etc...

But you do propose interesting features of a product, I do see a lot of value in this:

Since a hypothetical roommate matching service has a birds-eye view of everyone who's searching for rooms, it can deal better with managing house cultural changes in a sensible way when multiple rooms open up at once.

Or fixing the problem of community in a broader sense.

But if you are not willing to jump in why should anyone else bother? Startup founders who are passionate about what they make are the most important predictors of success, no one who is browsing Lesswrong or the Effective Altruism Forum will suddenly find their passion and make a billion dollars of it.

We’re working on something here in Seattle, USA. Happy to collaborate. Reach out to sarausad(at)gmail(dot)com

A community is different from mere friendship, just like common knowledge is different from mere knowledge; it's transitive. Not only are X and Y close to you, but you know that they are also close to each other; this is why you can invite them both at the same time.

Assuming you already have a community, if they live in the same city, what you need is to establish a communication channel where people can post stuff like "I want to go to a movie / walk at time T, would anyone like to join me?"

If you don't have a community, the first step is to join one or create one. You could join a larger community (e.g. the local rationalist meetup), and within it select a subgroup of people who "click" with you and with each other. Or you could grow it gradually, starting with a small group of your friends who also like each other, slowly progressing by "do you have a friend who seems like they could fit into our small group? try inviting them to our meeting tomorrow". For a group up to 10 people, the easiest way to organize a meetup is at your home.

(Sorry, this probably deserves a longer text, but I feel tired at the moment. Just wanted to write this.)

Not only are X and Y close to you, but you know that they are also close to each other; this is why you can invite them both at the same time.

Noting that I consider this to be a very important quality. There's a 6 person friend group from high-school that I'm still in regular contact with, and it has a lot to do with the fact that any subset of us can enjoy each other's company.

I've recently started hosting dinner parties and inviting various friends, and I'm now thinking about how to make it easier for them to all connect together, so it's more of a community feel and less "We all know Hazard."

It sometimes works, and it sometimes doesn't. The question is whether the only thing X and Y have in common is knowing you -- in which case it likely won't scale, -- or whether you have selected them both for the same reason (perhaps one you couldn't even articulate explicitly, but it's real and they feel it too) -- in which case it could work.

But assuming there's something as "a loneliness crisis" (which I don't think there is, at least not in the west).

Then what would be a solution to it: friendship or community?

Basing community on your definition which I agree.

It is best to have both, but generally the community requires less effort per human contact. I mean, if you want to meet your friend, either you or the friend needs to take responsibility and organize the thing. (Even if "organizing" means simply telling them "come to my place today at 19:00, we can talk or watch a movie".) With community, there is more work organizing, but then many people benefit from it, and also each participant meets multiple people at the same time, i.e. you could have dozen 1:1 interactions at the same place, which puts the cost of one interaction really low.

In the community, there is a risk that some people will always volunteer and some people will always free-ride, but in some sense this possibility is also a feature: people momentarily too low on energy to organize anything can still participate.

Are you familiar with Transactional Analysis, or more specifically the book Games People Play? Among other things, there is a scale of human relationships; if I remember correctly, it goes like this: "ignorance" (people pretend not to see each other), "rituals" (people do prescribed movements and say prescribed words), "work" (people act like professionals, they cooperate on a common goal but there is nothing personal about it), "games" (people interact to fulfill their emotional needs, but still hide behind their personas), and finally "intimacy" (people feel comfortable to remove their masks and interact openly).

The thing is, all of these levels serve a purpose. It is pathological if you can't trust anyone. It is also pathological if you can't keep your boundaries. The deeper relationships are more meaningful; the less deep relationships scale better. You want the entire pyramid: a few people you are intimate with, a larger group you have fun with, to be able to cooperate if necessary with any sane person, and to avoid conflict with those who rub you the wrong way.

By the way, people live in bubbles, so it's hard to estimate how many have the "loneliness crisis". Enough in absolute numbers for it to be a problem. But is it a majority or a minority? I have no idea.

By the way, people live in bubbles, so it's hard to estimate how many have the "loneliness crisis".

There's also a selection effect: Lonely people have fewer friends, so you're less likely to know them.

That would make average people underestimate the "loneliness crisis", right?

This post is especially timely for me. I have moved cross country multiple times in my life and am about to again. It always takes longer than I like to build new friendships. It takes a long time to build the right crowd, so loneliness is a persistent problem for at least the first year.

I have tried finding good roommates as a solution to the loneliness issue. Even when I find people I should like, that is not enough for any kind of friendship. The problem I run into, and the problem anyone else would need to solve with a service like this, is the problem of initial cliques. How do new people join the existing community? People act different around you when you are the new guy in the group and it takes time to build the shared experience to be accepted. New people are a disruption, and group roles become unclear.

The only way I have found to overcome the issue is by identifying a foundational shared professional or personal goal. It gives an excuse to be in the group. I think the sociologists mentioned have it backwards. Unplanned interactions don't create friends. Friends create unplanned interactions after they are comfortable with each other through connection on a deeper topic. The "unplanned interactions" model never gives an appropriate setting to confide in people. Unplanned interactions are usually trivial and rarely provide an appropriate path to share personally meaningful topics, which is a necessary factor for real friendships.

Therefore, I think any kind of service matching roommates needs to identify that foundational connection.

There may be another piece-- the ability to count on each other for help.

For example, my philosophy towards dirty dishes is to let them pile up on the counter and periodically stuff them all in the dishwasher, to be as time-efficient as possible. Surprisingly, some people dislike this approach.

You sound like a good roommate. Great post all around.

While we're on the subject, I'm surprised that people still use dishwashers. They seem so unnecessary to me. Just wash and scrub your dish when you're done using it and put it on the drying rack. Does there need to be an extra machine that cleans it further? Why put in the extra effort?

They are faster when you have a lot of dishes, and often much more energy and water efficient than hand washing.

That's true. Perhaps I mean that for myself I find it to be minimally time-saving to own one. I have yet to run the numbers but I can't see how it would justify a purchase, at least while living alone.

It takes less effort to rinse a dish before putting it in a diswasher than it does to clean it by hand (in fact often you don't need to rinse it), and the machine beeps once your dishes are dry. These factors, plus the batch processing, make dishwashers less effortful per dish for me.

For example, when you have kids, you often get a situation where dozens of things get dirty at the same time, and instead of washing them immediately you need to do something else, such as taking them to a kindergarten.

But without kids, I agree with you, washing everything right after you used it is quick and simple. It just requires a bit of conscientiousness.

It just requires a bit of conscientiousness.

I think there's some typical minding going on here of how hard conscientiousness is.

I am pretty low on conscientiousness, but I know people even lower than me.

For me, an important lesson was living alone in my own place, for a few years. That allowed me to try different things, and see what happens. After a few iterations, I guess my System 1 learned that actually washing the dishes immediately is the option that requires least work, which made it my preferred option.

Seems to me that people who never lived alone are missing an important learning opportunity. (Not just about dishes but also other household topics: vacuuming the room, buying toilet paper, etc. You see the entire "metabolism" of the household, not just selected parts.) When you live with other people, the options are not only "do the dishes immediately, when you mostly just rinse them", "do the dishes later, when you have to scrub the dry parts of the food", or even "do the dishes much later, when you also have to remove the disgusting mold", but there is also an option "if I wait long enough, someone else will do the dishes". The presence of the last option, especially when one is in denial about how much they benefit from it, is one of the things that make bad roommates.

tl;dr -- I believe it's usually more about incentives than about conscientiousness; or rather that going against your incentives requires even more conscientiousness than usual.

Just wash and scrub your dish when you're done using it and put it on the drying rack. Does there need to be an extra machine that cleans it further?

Why do you say "further"? Do you wash things before putting them in the dishwasher? We generally scrape off things that won't dissolve, and then put the dishes in as-is.

(In a house where we regularly have seven people at dinner being able to just put everything right into the dishwasher saves us loads of time over hand washing)

I would generally do a minimal rinse before putting dishes in the dishwasher, yes. I can see given the above comments that people disagree with me. I would guess the main sources of disagreement are:

  • I am considering a case where people do their dishes alone and don't share (you noted that this is different with seven people).
  • Rinsing/scraping, putting the dish in the dishwasher, and then taking it out takes a very small amount of time compared to hand-washing (I assumed that this was false, but maybe people other people are right).