New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is like your uncle who phones you up and tells you about this awesome new thing he's found called Netflix. "You can see whole TV series, one episode after another. I tell you, it's gonna change the way people watch television," he excitedly informs you. Now, perhaps Friedman thinks he's writing to an audience of those uncles, aunts, and various people in the "old, sweet, but kind of dumb" demographic, but when he says, as he does in his "column" on Sunday, that the lodging website Airbnb succeeds "a platform of 'trust' — where everyone could not only see everyone else’s identity but also rate them as good, bad or indifferent hosts or guests. This meant everyone using the system would pretty quickly develop a relevant 'reputation' visible to everyone else in the system," the first thing the Rude Pundit thought was "So you mean Yelp. Or Angie's List. Or the comments on Amazon products. Or every website selling shit under the sun."
Or, if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty of the history of the Interwebs, it was eBay that pretty much pioneered and popularized this whole "you're only as good as your comments and ratings" platform.
The rest of Friedman's examination of Airbnb is representative of a fuckin' awesome shift in the economic tide of the 21st century can be summarized thusly: Let us say, and why not, that you're getting fucked in the ass. Now, while getting fucked in the ass, you start to jack off because, let's face it, that prostate action is hot, but you can't finish before the dude is done fucking your ass. So the next time you're getting fucked in the ass by the kind of lover who won't give you a reacharound, who won't blow you or handy you in return, you try again to jack it to orgasm. And you get so close, but then, damnit, he's done, where's the towel? Sure, you can masturbate on your own, but that's got it's pleasures, but it's more of a hobby than an act done during sex with a partner or partners. You know that it should all be mutual, that your pleasure should be part of the whole act of fucking. But you choose shitty, selfish partners who don't care if you get off. Finally, sweet Jesus, you do it. You blow a load while getting fucked and it feels so awesome that you're ready to get fucked in the ass again and again.
For Friedman, the global economy is doing the fucking and Airbnb is allowing you to do the jacking off, but you're supposed to pretend that your little ejaculation is enough to change the world.
Oh, dear uncles and aunts, Airbnb is a website where you can go to rent rooms or apartments or homes or yurts for when you're on vacation. It's supposed to give you a more authentic experience of a place than a hotel or a bed and breakfast, although a good many bed and breakfast inns do use Airbnb (as has the Rude Pundit). Friedman interviewed one of the founders of the website, Brian Chesky, about what Friedman calls "the sharing economy," which is people using their homes or, in the case of Uber, their cars to make a living.
Friedman, using Chesky's words, romanticizes this whole concept. Quoting Chesky, Friedman writes, "There used to be a romanticism about ownership, because it meant you were free, you were empowered...I think now, for the younger generation, ownership is viewed as a burden. Young people will only want to own what they want responsibility for. And a lot of people my age don’t want responsibility for a car and a house and to have a lot of stuff everywhere. What I want to own is my reputation, because in this hyperconnected world, reputation will give you access to all kinds of things now."
In other words, you get to own nothing, says the very, very rich man to the very rich writer. Because, see, you used to be able to own your reputation and also be able to afford shit to own. You should be satisfied with a compliment online, a little bit of money from renting out part of your home because you can't find a job that pays you enough to just own, and the scraps of the world.
But for Friedman, this is the future, where he sees megacorporations yielding to hyperconnected small enterprises where people get to never stop working: "This will be a struggle between the 20th-century economy and the 21st’s. The 20th-century economy was powered by big corporations that standardized everything because they never really knew their customers, argued Chesky." Yes, giant consolidated corporations that have spent huge amounts of time and money accruing political power will no doubt be overthrown by a couple with a cute room that overlooks the beach. But at least you don't have to tip those now-unemployed bellhops, concierges, and waitstaff.
Airbnb and Uber are charming blips that will either die gruesomely or become part of the machine that they supposedly are attempting to confront. Ask anyone. Ask Microsoft. Ask Google. Ask Facebook. Every time we try to change American capitalistic paradigms, those paradigms just absorb and transform them into the same entities that ever were. And Chesky will get richer while you clean the semen stains from your sheets.
(Note: All of this ignores the smarmy little introduction that Friedman opens with, which says, more or less, "There's lots of bad shit going on in the world. But I wanna talk about how cool Airbnb is.")