Saturday, August 2nd, 2014...4:45 pm

Gigatrend Friedman Moist Over “Sharing Economy” @tomfriendman @airbnb

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NY Times columnist Thomas A. Friedman, the gigatrend entrepreneur de jour, recently got his panties moist excited about the “sharing economy.” Services like taxi Uber or shelter Airbnb, Friedman breathlessly prophesies, are “burying the past with the future, and actually bringing strangers together.”

The millenarian Friedman declares Airbnb to be the anodyne to the world’s bad news from Ukraine or Palestine.

So here is my Airbnb story, which I think is illustrative of the risks that one runs in an unregulated “sharing” without caring economy.

A couple of summers ago, preparing to present a paper at Rockefeller University, “a world-renowned center for research and graduate education in the biomedical sciences, chemistry, bioinformatics and physics,” on the East Side of Manhattan, I made reservations on Airbnb at the suggestion of a friend.

The location of the apartment was perfect (the East Side, a dozen or so blocks away), and the price was right for this self-funded travel.

Then, a few days before I was to travel to Manhattan, my “host” contacted me to say that his girlfriend, a flight attendant, was coming to town and that he would not be able to let me stay at his apartment. I objected that my plans were made, that his apartment was convenient to my conference, and that I would not be able to make alternative arrangements on such short notice.

His proposed Plan B was that I would stay at his apartment two nights then decamp to the hotel where the girlfriend’s airline was putting her up. (His girlfriend preferred staying in his apartment, he explained. “So would I,” I thought.) Trouble was, he wouldn’t know which hotel that would be until the day of her arrival, and he would have to check my bag into the hotel himself.

At this point my mantra became, “I will live one day at a time having a Manhattan adventure.” Anyone familiar with my MBTI ENTJ personality knows that I consider checking into a Holiday Inn without reservations to be “roughing it.”

On the day I arrived, my “check-in” was delayed by his work schedule, but I oriented myself to the neighborhood and had a fine dinner at a restaurant around the corner. Then I discovered that the key to the outer door of the building he’d given me was temperamental, so getting into the building took considerable prayer.

On the day of the Change of Venue, I learned that his girlfriend’s airline was putting her up in a hotel on the West Side, above Lincoln Center. A lovely location, to be sure, but no longer within walking distance of Rockefeller University. The transfer itself required a complicated maneuver that reminded me of nothing so much as the plot of David Mamet’s “The Spanish Prisoner.”

I was to meet him at a coffee shop two blocks from the hotel. He would take my bag and check into the hotel under his girlfriend’s name. He would return to the coffee shop with the hotel room key. I would go to the hotel without stopping at the registration desk. On the day I was to leave Manhattan we would arrange to meet up so I could hand back the hotel room key.

Grateful that I was returning to Connecticut by train rather than by air (“Did anyone other than you have access to your bag?”), I followed this subterfuge. The rest of the stay was uneventful, and I took advantage of what the West Side had to offer.

In my green and salad days, like many young gay men, on a few occasions I relied on the kindness of strangers in Manhattan (hot sex, post-coital dessert at the Empire Diner, and waking up in the arms of a new friend to a view of the Empire State Building), so I’m not averse to sharing. However, what the sharing-without-caring economy denies us are safety, reliability, accountability, the very things that a makes a regulated economy prosperous. There is a reason that I can’t invite people into my home, fix them dinner, and charge them for the meal.

On the day that I departed, my “host” and I arrange to meet at Grand Central Station (where I caught the Metro North back to Connecticut). He was quite awestruck by Grand Central, to which he’d never been before.

The moral of the story: Never trust a man who’s lived in Manhattan for several years but has never been to Grand Center.

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