Cabin and the Opposite of Loneliness
What is a community? Diasporic Nations. Hybrid digital/physical cities.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” - Ernest Hemingway
You hear the word “community” a lot in crypto. There’s a “community” of Bored Ape holders. There’s a “community” of Solana developers. There’s a broader “NFT” community. But in these contexts, we strip community of its meaning. We reduce it to meaning "shared financial interest."
I own index funds, but I do not identify as part of the index fund community.
My preferred "community" definition is from an essay called The Opposite of Loneliness:
It’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats. […]This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness.
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I write about DAOs because I believe that community is a deep human need. I also believe that our analog models are dead and not coming back. So I am betting on the emergence of new kinds of community. These communities will need to transcend geographic and socioeconomic distance. They will have to compete for our attention against streaming and TikTok. DAOs are the most promising attempt I have seen.
But most DAOs cultivate community as a means-to-an-end. They build community to incubate products. They build community to make token go up. They build community to fund this or support that. And look there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, community can be incidental. It can be something that happens while you’re busy making other plans.
But I worry that these communities miss the forest from the trees. The primary value of “community” is not that it is a distribution mechanic or a retention moat. The primary value is that we can connect with other humans. It’s in the development of empathy and shared bonds.
So it’s refreshing when you find a Web3 community that sees building and cultivating community as its primary purpose.
Meet Cabin – the DAO architects of a new type of hybrid community. They are building the first actual Network City.
I’ve been following their journey since learning about them from a friend in January. Their work could not be more well-timed.
COVID has forced a reappraisal of the role of community in our lives. Freed from physical constraints, we tried all sorts of new living arrangements. There were retreats to nature. There was Van Life. We believed we could keep our communities through digital connection. We could stay in touch with work or family or friends directly from our phone.
Two years into the pandemic, that calculus has shifted. The limitations of the digital community have become clear. We do need to see each other in real life. That’s why most companies are moving forward with some kind of hybrid arrangement. It’s also why we were so excited to be able to visit family in person, even if we had talked to them every day on Zoom.
This notion of hybrid community – part digital and part physical – is not actually novel. It's a reimagining of an idea as old as the Old Testament.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that the Jewish people maintained their identity in the face of constant subjugation and exile through storytelling. At Passover, for example, Jews tell the story of the escape from Egypt in the first person. It is not “What God did for the Israelites” it is “What God did for me.” Jews do this because, “If we are the story we tell about ourselves, then as long as we never lose the story, we will never lose our identity.”
When people cannot come together in-person, they need a story to bind them together. This is the core idea of a Diasporic Nation. In the digital age, those narratives are no-longer one-way retellings. They are interactive narratives. You tell the story by helping to write it on Discord, Mirror and Snapshot.
But it’s not an accident that every telling of the Passover seder ends with the phrase, “Next year in Jerusalem.” A diaspora still requires the promise of coming together in the future.
Cabin's Network City offers both components of the Diasporic Nation. The Network City has both a narrative glue and a physical community for pilgrimmage.
The Digital City
In the Social Network, a coked-up Sean Parker launches into a rant: “We lived on farms, we lived in cities and now we’re going to live on the internet!”
Think about how you spend your social energy these days. What percentage of your interactions with your friends are in person? What percentage are via text or FaceTime? What about for work? What about for interactions in your religion, your local community, your sports fandom?
Community is not just physical. It is a connection facilitated by a feeling of belonging and a shared understanding of the world. It is a mental state. And that state can be shared via 1s and 0s more frequently than it can be in person. Shared ideas, shared memes, shared understanding makes community.
Cabin’s community begins with the group’s core values: “Conserve. Create. Colive.” The credo sums up the values of the community effortlessly. They conserve, by building in sustainable ways that preserve nature. They are creators of digital and physical artifacts. And, of course, they strive to bring those people together to live in a single community.
Cabin’s digital community exists in three dimensions. They use digital media, digital communication and digital building.
They have a robust digital media operation to tell their story. There’s the Cabin podcast. There is an extremely active Mirror blog. There are consistent updates piped out from their real-world neighborhoods. They tell their story often and in every format possible.
Next, there is the community itself. The group uses Discord to communicate. It also, like many other DAOs, hosts weekly community calls. You can participate in a “Welcome” call when you first join. Or you can join weekly calls on Monday mornings.
Finally, there is the work of actually building and curating the digital city. Of course, the DAO allows members to vote on budgets and initiatives via their Snapshot.
But they also are actively building new tools for members to engage with the community. They are experimenting with Token Curated Registries to bind together their network’s physical properties. They are also experimenting with blockchain-based credentialing tools like NFT Passports. They are building the infrastructure of their town together.
The Physical City
Cabin aimed, at first, to be a community for digital creators. They have, this year, positioned themselves as a “DAO Embassy” where online communities can come together in real life. In other words, their bread-and-butter are folks that can best be described as “very online.”
But Cabin is not just online. They are building a true alternative to physical cities. That project began with Neighborhood Zero.
Neighborhood Zero is a 28-acre estate roughly 45 minutes outside of Austin. At first, the residence there was just a 3 bedroom home built by the grandparents of Cabin’s founder, Jon Hillis. But the Cabin community has built on the property. They have constructed a 4 Bedroom/4 Bath container home. They are building two new “Tiny Homes” with external bathhouse. It also includes a sauna and a pergola built by DAO members during “Build Weeks.”
The vision of the DAO is to build and improve many neighborhoods like Neighborhood Zero. Members will be able to visit and stay in these communities wherever they exist. Today, Cabin already counts three active communities (Neighborhood Zero in Austin, Montaia in the Eastern Sierras and Radish in Oakland). They are actively recruiting new properties to participate in their network.
As the network begins to scale, the team is also starting to enable members to live in its neighborhoods. These different neighborhoods will form a geographically disparate but digitally linked “Network City:”
Here’s how that City will work:
Cabin is actively recruiting “Caretakers.” These individuals are owners of properties. The owners work out an arrangement with Cabin to join the “network” as a coliving Neighborhood.
Cabin vets and trains Caretakers. They also provide resources for building community in the coliving node.
Cabin Members purchase a Coliving Pass that allows them to book time to live or visit at Cabin neighborhoods.
Coliving, of course, is not without its own set of difficulties. When people live together – especially, young people – there can be major challenges to navigate. The usual roommate tensions and damage to physical space apply. But how does a DAO deal with the inevitable set of deeper challenges that will arise? Web3 remains an overwhelmingly white, male space. So how does a DAO think about diversity and inclusion? How does it think about handling sexual harassment and assault? How can it build and sustain a community that welcomes more than crypto bros?
As Cabin’s Community Lead Jon Dean put it to me, “I don’t care how beautiful the property is. If the people aren’t the right people nothing else really matters.”
To that end, Cabin has a rigorous application and screening process. They also invite new members to shorter retreats before allowing them to take up residency. This allows both sides to feel each other out.
The community has also taken DEI seriously. In April, they announced plans for a community census to understand and improve the community's diversity. They have also hosted a DAO operator residency to identify best practices for DAO DEI.
Cabin poses an important question. Can you build a replacement for real-world cities without demanding constant colocation? Can you realize Hemingway's dream of city-as-Moveable Feast?
To achieve that, a community needs the promise of a permanent home and the media to sustain a diaspora. Cabin is well on its way to achieving both. As its members connect, create and colive at Cabin, they become missionaries for its vision.
Even when you leave the Motherland, the Motherland never really leaves you. That’s what it means to truly experience the opposite of loneliness.