Once upon a time, everyone thought that online dating was only going to lead to more serial killers. But now we know better: There aren't any more serial killers than there were before, and you can also summon any rando with a Prius to come drive you home at any hour of the night, and it's totally fine.
Also, you can now sell that mint-condition Transformers collection inside of a few days, for a good price, without the hassle of a garage sale. As Wired suggests in a new piece about this new "intimacy" we have with each other, via services like Lyft, RelayRides, TaskRabbit, and AirBnB, there's something to be said for the ways in which eBay deserves credit for creating this newfound trust. The businesses we've seen boom in our new sharing economy in which we've all learned to let an internet company, and various customer review systems, vet the people we hand our money to all use similar tactics, insurances, and accountability metrics that were pioneered by eBay at a time when virtually no one thought internet transactions were very safe. And, for the most part, it's been working.
Of course, nothing is 100% safe. People's identities still get stolen and we're all still kind of waiting for that next shoe to drop (wherein some SideCar driver turns out to be a serial rapist/murderer). But for now, all of these businesses are doing a good job of vetting hosts/drivers/sellers, and they generally make us feel warm and fuzzy!
The sharing economy has come on so quickly and powerfully that regulators and economists are still grappling to understand its impact. But one consequence is already clear: Many of these companies have us engaging in behaviors that would have seemed unthinkably foolhardy as recently as five years ago. We are hopping into strangers’ cars (Lyft, Sidecar, Uber), welcoming them into our spare rooms (Airbnb), dropping our dogs off at their houses (DogVacay, Rover), and eating food in their dining rooms (Feastly). ...We are entrusting complete strangers with our most valuable possessions, our personal experiencesand our very lives. In the process, we are entering a new era of Internet-enabled intimacy.
This is not just an economic breakthrough. It is a cultural one, enabled by a sophisticated series of mechanisms, algorithms, and finely calibrated systems of rewards and punishments. It’s a radical next step for the person-to-person marketplace pioneered by eBay: a set of digital tools that enable and encourage us to trust our fellow human beings.
Not only are we harkening back to an earlier, less technological age, argues Wired, a time of hitchhiking and unlocked doors, but we're doing it because of new technologies. And we're doing it with a sense of anti-corporate, anti-regulation abandon, suggesting that the old way of doing things with traditional hotels and taxis was just too cold and dehumanizing.
Of course, we engage in commerce with total strangers every day. We hand our credit cards to shop clerks, get into the backseat of taxis driven by cabbies we’ve never met, ingest food prepared in closed kitchens, and ignore the fact that hotel workers with master keys could sneak into our rooms while we sleep. But each of those transactions is undergirded and supported by a complicated series of regulations, backstops, and assurances that go back to the Industrial Revolution.
Is this all because of Burning Man? Discuss.
Previously: Chiu's AirBnB Compromise Goes Before Supes Today