#OneLessStranger: Some thoughts on obligation without consent

Airbnb has a promotional campaign running, #OneLessStranger

On Airbnb, you can post and find rooms/properties to lease short term. Initial contact is done through the website, without identifying details being exchanged, but you can see that the identity of the person has been ‘verified’ (e.g. through ‘linking’ their Facebook account, proving they have provided a working mobile phone number and/or by electronic assessment of identity documents). Both ‘hosts’ and ‘guests’ review each other. Airbnb handles the money and provides some insurance cover (with most of the fees being added to the price paid by the person who books).

The images, text and set-up of the website encourages hosts and guests to develop social relationships. Not only are hosts encouraged to tell guests how much they are likely to socialise with them, hosts can send ‘special offers’ (i.e. the set price is not so set). My reactions (as an Australian) to this type of exchange is in keeping with work by John Burgess on the the relationally of American exchange compared with the formality of Australian exchange (with a focus on tipping in bars).

For #OneLessStranger, Airbnb is transferring a credit to [at least some] bank accounts [they already have the details for]. For Australian accounts the amount appears to be AUD$10 (and this figure of 10 seems to also be used in other currencies).

An email advises the Airbnb user of having been been ‘handpicked’ ‘to be part of a global social experiment’.

“At Airbnb we want to reduce the number of strangers in the world. We invite you to take part by doing one kind, inventive, awesome act of hospitality to someone you haven’t met yet. Here’s how it works:

1. In the coming days, you’ll see a payout in your Transaction History to cover the cost.

2. Use it to create something special for a stranger and capture the moment with a picture, video or post.

3. Share your story with #OneLessStranger and show the world what it looks like to pay-it-forward with Airbnb. You can do this within the video or text, or by using an #ad hashtag when sharing.”

The $10 arrives without the Airbnb user agreeing to participate. With the $10 being transferred, there is a demand (not just a request) to participate – participation has already been paid for. (I have written a little about obligations and the gift on this blog before.) Receiving $10 for #OneLessStranger seems to be different from receiving an advertising covered ‘free sample’ at the train station.

In #OneLessStranger, ‘strangers’ may receive contact that they did not request. Should this be celebrated? The very concept of community seems to be imbued with demands that are made without consent.

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