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On the ideology of sharing economy: an interview with Brian Chesky

Brian Chesky, co-found and CEO of Airbnb, said a few illuminating and frightening things on the ideology behind sharing economy. The main idea is that your free time will be balanced with “income streams”. The interview, with McKinsey & Company, is from 2014, but worth a reading. Key points:

√ Today’s generation sees ownership as “a burden.”
√ People aren’t proud of their homes or cars; they’re proud of their Instagram feed.
√ In the future, people will own whatever they want responsibility for. And what they’re going to want responsibility for the most is their reputation, their friendships, their relationships, and the experiences they’ve had;
√ Affect triumphs over material lack.
√ You may not have a job, but you’ll have an ever more complex “income stream”—which in most cases is more likely to be a trickle than a torrent.

Here’s the excerpt from the interview:

I don’t think people would view the jobs created in the sharing economy as jobs. I don’t even know if they get counted as jobs when the White House has a new jobs report. They are jobs. As far as I can tell, people are working, they’re making income, and they depend on that income. Half of our hosts depend on it to pay the rent or mortgage. Maybe it’s a new kind of job. Maybe it’s like a 21st-century job. Tom Friedman talks about how in the future people may not have jobs. They’ll have income streams.

I believe that the sharing economy broadly can probably provide tens of millions of jobs or income streams for people all over the world. This is going to have a pretty big effect on the economy, mostly a good one.

The sharing economy started by democratizing and creating access to probably two of the biggest assets people have: their homes and then their cars. But I think the whole idea of ownership is changing. When my parents were young, owning things was a privilege, and there was a sense of romance to owning a house, owning a car.

Today’s generation sees that ownership also as a burden. People still want to show off, but in the future I think what they’re going to want to show off is their Instagram feed, their photos, the places they’ve gone, the experiences they’ve had. That has become the new bling. It’s not the car you have; it’s the places you go and the experiences you have. I think in the future, people will own whatever they want responsibility for. And I think what they’re going to want responsibility for the most is their reputation, their friendships, their relationships, and the experiences they’ve had.

So I think the biggest revolution will be in the biggest asset of all. The biggest asset is not a house. It’s not a car. It’s people’s time.

These days another poster-company of the current state of things, Uber, is under attack in several countries, where workers have disrupted with increasingly violent protests the daily routine of cities like Paris, Rome or Milano. Confronted with this reality, the publicists of sharing economy seek to transform instability into opportunity. But this is also the classically neoliberal response to crisis: individualized and market-driven, where we are all turned into micro-entrepreneurs, fighting for life in a hostile world. We may lack health insurance, sick days and a pension plan, but we’re in control of our Instagram feeds and “income streams”.

Here’s the full interview with Brian Chesky.

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