We're not accustomed to ripping off our veils and exposing ourselves to strangers. But a growing sharing economy built on trust and intimacy promises to make us a little less socially sequestered at least.
The sharing economy isn't new to the Twin Cities. In fact, businesses like Car2Go, HOURCAR, Nice Ride, and CoCo coworking, among others, have changed how we live, work, and play. They're part of a larger disruptive business model that's been the positive result of the economic crisis and changing mindsets about work, behavior, and consumption.
About a month ago I signed up for AirBnB, renting out my whole house (and when I am not traveling, just a single room) a few days a month in an effort to pay off mounting medical debt that my pre-Obamacare insurance company insists should cost me the monthly equivalent of running out and leasing a fully equipped Prius or two. (That's a whole other story. Or three.)
Unlike the other local examples of the sharing economy, however, AirBnB and similar services like FlipKey and Homestay are about getting paid to share what's yours. In other words, they're a lot more personal. Business innovation has birthed new ways for us to cozy up with strangers from all over the world.
Earlier this week writer Jason Tanz noted in Wired magazine that AirBnB and Lyft, where you can turn your car into a cab, are creating a cultural shift, finally teaching Americans to trust one another. "We are entrusting complete strangers with our most valuable possessions, our personal experiences—and our very lives," he writes. "In the process, we are entering a new era of Internet-enabled intimacy."
This "new era of intimacy" is partially due to a still struggling economy: 47 percent of AirBnB survey respondents say that hosting has helped them stay in their homes. But it's also buyoed by an increasing number of people who are driven to pursue new connections as well as non-traditional forms of work. A study released last week about AirBnB in Portland reveals that 45% of Portland hosts are self-employed, freelancers, or part-time workers, and 12% of hosts have used AirBnB income to support themselves while launching a new business.
Of course the question remains: Can this entrepreneur and sharing economy enthusiast use every peer-to-peer transaction as currency for paying off medical debt? I will post updates about my progress. But I can tell you one thing I've learned so far about opening up my personal belongings and the stories they hold to strangers: If a stranger who stayed in your home baked a cake on Easter, topped it with luxurious peaks of homemade buttercream frosting, and left it covered in your fridge on your own cake plate, that cake is all yours. Trust in it. Trust (and stranger cakes) are the best currency of all.