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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Crafting Gemeinschaft: Making stranger danger obsolete

What if I told you to hop into a random stranger’s car and take a drive to Washington so you could see all of your favorite bands play while overlooking the Columbia River? What if I told you to spend the night in a stranger’s extra room so you can enjoy the city while saving enough money to actually eat? See, this would sound pretty strange 10 years ago, but today it’s all becoming more normal. Social institutions that have been around forever like car dependency and hotels are being challenged by social media, and I think it is great. I just think it’s ironic that we are willing to take risks in certain aspects of our lives, such as sleeping in near proximity to strangers and trusting their driving skills, when we remain so distrustful in other aspects.

Hotels are facing competition from the website Airbnb, where individuals can offer up a room in their home to strangers who might be looking for something more comfortable and cheaper than a hotel. Airbnb has faced opposition, specifically in New York. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against the company and was quoted in the New York Post saying that he is is trying to protect the state’s extremely successful hotel industry. The other side of the argument is that while it is the Attorney General’s duty to protect the hotels, it is also his duty to advocate for New York citizens. Some of these citizens are able to stay in their homes because of the revenue they make from Airbnb.

Another site where people display lowered trust thresholds is Zimride, which allows people to post about road trips they are taking so that strangers can tag along and split the gas money. In addition to setting up a business model that is profitable and good for the environment, the founders of Zimride wanted to emphasize the community value in carpooling. This is shown by the company ethos which claims, “Life is better when you share the ride.” One way Zimride creates community is by allowing people to share experiences, something that is becoming more rare in our individualistic, “I-can-do-it-all” society. Some people have found signifanct others while giving rides, which is like the best two-for-one deal ever: reducing your carbon footprint while finding love.

While we trust people giving us rides in their cars with Zimride, and we trust staying in the homes of strangers through Airbnb, one thing we are still particularly distrusting of is food. A group of college students from the University of Southern California challenged the notion that all food has to be heavily regulated by opening a pop-up restaurant out of their apartment called Paladar. While there are many benefits to living in the USC area, one thing the school does not have is opportunities to get healthy and tasty food (without access to a car). Paladar was the students’ solution to this; the thing is, its not exactly legal. They did not pay for a food license, they did not have a license to serve liquor, they did not get their facilities checked out by the USDA. But why should people have to go through all these hoops just to do something that brings them joy — serving people food?

People are willing to lower their trust threshold to stay in someone’s house with Airbnb and ride in a random stranger’s car with Zimride, so they should also be open to the idea of having a sit-down dinner out of someone’s apartment. The implications of being more trusting and changing the nature of our everyday transactions is that we are ensuring that our economy is “for the people, by the people.” There are lots of social constructs we accept because they have existed for so long, but it is in our interest to sit down and think about which ones are primarily serving our interests and which ones are serving the interests of the business man.

To contact Nicole Nelson, email her at nsnelson@ucdavis.edu.



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