Airbnb: A Sleeping Exercise

Airbnb is immersive, like learning a language. You're a local wherever you go and this is the luxury. You are a citizen of the world and with that we sleep with the Other, skin cells and all.
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A documented history of houseguest etiquette enters a new economy. A cleaning fee replaces the household attendants of Georgian England and whatever gets left in the fridge compensates for the ever-popular yet disappearing house gift. The concierge is your host, an authentic local whose recommendations we trust, and whose instructions accompany the standard coffee table book. With no cleaning fee the host kindly requests your dutiful maintenance of domestic bliss for incumbent guests. After all this is not a hotel, many of which are becoming overly automated, anonymous, sterile, and subsequently gauche. Instead come vacation amid an inventory of bewildering objects and mingle with the human detritus of a complete stranger. Welcome to your new airbnb.

The airbnb website invites you to "belong anywhere" and the host's décor presents clues to a possible like-minded soul. These concierges aren't strangers but kindred spirits welcoming other equally transient creatives. Perhaps you and your host both like photography or fashion or even share the same name. The ghosts of my recent Parisian abode located on Canal St. Martin were potential friends, lost siblings waiting to be found. The Frenchman and my boyfriend had the same name and although we never met them, their flat was an evenly distributed set of signs predicting a lasting union. A guitar, a keyboard, an easel, a shoebox full of nail polish, shoes, fashion books, photographs from around the world, but no ice in the icebox, hairs left in the tub, and greasy dishes. We mirrored each other in theory but we'll never know and ultimately, our differing ideals on sanitation would've never worked.

Leniency is accorded to friends but not to institutions and airbnb pushes these boundaries and our personal comfort zones. Like most digital platforms, it renegotiates social expectations. It encourages relationships: contact your host; contact another host; keep in contact; if there's a problem contact the host before contacting airbnb. The site pushes us toward a relationship, toward etiquette, and even warmth--overriding the awkwardness of mechanized hospitality. But booking an airbnb is business. In fact my best advice is to be heartless. Friendship is the enemy when problems arise. While stray human residue is normal and thus completely forgivable, it's potentially gross, frustrating, and even a health hazard that's a considerable cost to "belong anywhere."

Today's mobile class considers home differently than baby boomers and older generations. Certain rooms were off limits, doors were closed, living rooms immaculately tidied especially for company. Today's entire home is a show room with a bed that's never empty and a residence that increasingly functions as a living profile--attractive or not. The inside becomes public and it's not always marble, 100% cotton, and down. Marina Abramovic's sleeping escapades occur as recently as 2014's Art Basel Miami Beach with "Sleeping Exercise," in which art goers could take a load off in a room of cots that was naturally also an installation. In 1979 Sophie Calle invited guests to sleep in her bed for eight hours while she observed them. Indeed the paranoid airbnb guest will always suspect a hidden video camera --at least on the first night.

Travel used to imply leaving our own world behind, venturing into the unknown, disappearing into a crowd, and foregoing daily duties. With airbnb, we opt in to accountability, rely on profiles, reviews, accept house rules, and quite often help our hosts extort us and/or their landlord--because it really is a clever way to make an extra buck amid high rents. The romanticism of leaving life behind is filled by another's baggage. We abandon the comforts of home for the comforts of home in a different city. Laundry, cooking, and patronizing your host's local hangouts or grocer are all within reach. Airbnb is immersive, like learning a language. You're a local wherever you go and this is the luxury. You are a citizen of the world and with that we sleep with the Other, skin cells and all.