Friday, October 30, 2015

Creating Shared Space (with Gem)

Gem:
I spent two weeks visiting public libraries in Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands. During those two weeks I used Airbnb. What motivates people to invite strangers into their private spaces? It's been clear that some people have needed the money. Others have wanted the company. Everyone has been friendly. I have invested time and energy in the people with whom I have stayed. My hosts have expected me to engage with them. I have had to communicate with them so that we can share space in harmony. The arrangement is very intimate - it's not like staying in a hotel.

A Helsinki Rainbow with a Gem at the end

Trev:
A hotel is a clear one way exchange. Perhaps the hotelier enjoys the industry and has a vision of what they are trying to create. But AirBnB, Couchsurfing and Hostels are all a little different. The connection is the main thing, and the place to stay is secondary. Yes, I do think financial considerations can be a driver in opening up spaces. We keep lots of things 'in case'. This waste can be eliminated through trusting other people to use what is yours when you don't need it. The exciting part of the sharing exchange comes when it is more subtle. When you start exchanging stories, relationships and flavour.

Gem:
I agree that it's nice to share. We've been doing this for centuries. My Grandmother lived in the village in which she was born. Everyone knew everyone; they shared everything. It was cheap to share back then. My Grandparents moved to live near my Great Cousin who babysat my Father when he was a baby. They trusted my Great Cousin to do a good job. The home-owners I stayed with in Europe trusted me to look after their home. An owner learns to share something and a borrower learns to take care of it. You both need to trust.

Trev:
And the sharing of trust is interesting because it builds on itself. When a normal exchange is made, it is transactional. Nothing is owed and the connection is temporary. When you stay in someone's home, or you share a meal, or someone helps you do something you need to do, there is something else going on. It definitely leaves a lot of people feeling uncomfortable. We don't know how to account for our responsibilities and expectations. It feels naked. Asking for things rather than buying them is hard. Saying No when people ask is hard. Giving without expectation of return is the heart of sharing.

Gem:
The onus is on the temporary visitor to prove his or her trustworthiness in return for trust that has already been given by the host. I'd like to return to my initial comment about communication. I communicated with my Airbnb hosts as a way of demonstrating that I was trustworthy. The ability to communicate became a valuable commodity in a sharing economy. Other hosts recognized it as a sign of trustworthiness - my hosts repeatedly noted 'good communication' in their feedback. But, there were limits to how often, and in what way, I could communicate. It was difficult to know where to draw the line.

Trev:
I do think things are less ambiguous when there is an exchange. It is the reason money is so effective at creating anonymous activity. How you do things matters less when the event is once off, and there is a lot of clarity around what is being given and taken. With the relationships where we are used to sharing, i.e. friends and family, clear communication is probably the most important thing. It takes time to learn the subtleties of what individuals expect and offer. The shared economy is trying to get us to trust more people, and almost instantaneously.

Gem:
Yes, I agree that money curtails a relationship, by which it makes it easier to understand boundaries. But, it also creates more complication as it replaces a gift with a commodity exchange. I have often been slightly confused by when/how you switch between these two forms of exchange - particularly when dealing with lovers, family and friends. When do you decide to cut a tie by introducing money; what does it mean for the relationship? I admire people who know when to negotiate the boundary between these two forms of exchange. I worry about the impact on trust.

Trev:
Airbnb is attempting to balance the two. Couchsurfing.com is a more genuine Sharing Economy. Your Grandparents would have lived in a fairly homogeneous environment with 'policing' mechanisms of gossip and geographical boundaries. Social Media makes it harder to escape into anonymity. Perhaps the connections facilitated by reviews and reputation start to create the boundaries necessary for trust? Even our homogeneous bubbles weren't truly homogeneous. We were still individuals trying to trust. Along with (hopefully) occasional family tiffs.

Gem:
Trust is being eroded all around us. Every day there are reports of less trust - less trust of the press, government, scientists, and celebrities; more information does not help. It simply compounds the distrust - as we don't know from whom the information comes. Trust is a product of trustworthy relationships - relationships where people have to be convinced by each other. If we introduce money, we cut ties, and don't have to invest in our relationships in the same way. So, Airbnb is good for trust, but it doesn't mean that trustworthy relationships are easy to negotiate, maintain, and secure.

Trev:
Trust is not easy. I think we are defensively wired to bunker down and build walls, surrounding ourselves with people we feel we understand. The disconnection from press, government, scientists and celebrities makes us suspicious. We are generally a rather suspicious bunch when we don't understand stuff. We don't readily hand out benefit of doubt. I think our curiosity will win the day though. Trusting people does open up our lives to incredible opportunities for meaningful connections. The brave amongst us will come back with tales of what lies beyond the uncomfortable conversations. The bounty of trust.

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Follow Gemma on Twitter (@gemma_john), see her work at GemmaJohn.com, or read her other guest post 'Tourism at Home'

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