Read positively, is Airbnb symptomatic of transformations to middle-class sensibility? Does entrepreneurialism respond, for instance, to the failures of community? Is ‘hosting’ an empowered response to loneliness, to the decline of recognition and reciprocity in public space, to the hyper-mobility and perceived anonymity of everyday life?
Is the retreat to the domestic scene – or, conversely, the delivery of intimate space to the market – about localising commerce in some way? If so, because I can rent out a spare room, should I? Will future norms include the social pressure to make use of all potential assets or risk negative perceptions? Are we all destined to be speculators?
What remains a concern is that Airbnb relies on two forms of enfranchisement that the US, among other places, does not bestow equally: access to credit and digital connectivity. Evidently, it exacerbates what are already pressing social tensions in major US cities. The site itself has global reach. A specific population enjoys the benefits of this data economy, culminating in a kind of ‘white flight’ from the hotel industry even as it paves the way for the further extension of distinct cultural preferences. Airbnb is a success in part because it fosters a new elitism in hospitality, one that can discriminate through algorithms in ways that formal workplaces and organizations can not. Its success therefore threatens to enshrine practices of discrimination that are part of a much longer real estate story.