Former General Motors executive and U.S. Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson is known for saying, “What was good for General Motors was good for our country.” But what he really said was more reflective: “For years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”
Yesterday here I defended CEOs against the caricature The New York Times made of them—all, as a bunch of self-congratulatory global vision-merchants known as “Davos Men.” People who instinctively and strategically and emphatically and erroneously equate the goals of their organization to the betterment of humanity.
Today, perhaps it’s well to acknowledge that even the crudest caricatures exaggerate features that are actually there.
And if Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky isn’t a Davos Man, he’ll do until one gets here. Chesky announced Tuesday that he’s going to put his ass where his mouth is: living in Airbnb rentals full-time, “staying in a different town or city every couple of weeks.”
Why? The young kajillionaire wants to demonstrate to the world that “the pandemic has created the biggest change to travel since the advent of commercial flying,” and that “for the first time, millions of people can now live anywhere.”
Chesky tweeted his vision:
More people will start living abroad, others will travel for the entire summer, and some will even give up their leases and become digital nomads.
Cities and countries will compete to attract these remote workers, and it will lead to a redistribution of where people travel and live.
In the past year, 100,000 Airbnb guests booked stays of three months or longer. In 2022, I think the biggest trend in travel will be people spreading out to thousands of towns and cities, staying for weeks, months, or even entire seasons at a time.
Really, though, how many millions of people have the economic wherewithal, professional freedom and family circumstances to “live anywhere”? I know one such person—a Chicago pal about my age and single. He has more money than he needs, a work-anywhere tech job, and nothing else to tie him down. He has a big RV with a little house for his cats, and lots of ideas about where to drive it. And do you know where he’s spent most of his time in the year and a half he’s been on the road? In an RV park in Arizona, helping his mother tend to his sick old man.
Chesky’s gonna start in Atlanta and bop effortlessly, grasshopper-like, perhaps via corporate jet, from town to town, frequently slipping back to the company HQ in San Francisco to check in on folks. Sounds kinda lonely to me. Two weeks in a town seems like just enough time to find someone worth saying goodbye to.
More troubling to me—more Davos Man-like—would be the unintended consequence of Chesky’s vision, if it actually was carried out by the masses that he says he’s setting an example for.
What kind of a neighborhood would you have if two thirds of the “residents” had just blown in from Philly or New York or Dallas or Denver or Phoenix or San Francisco, and if everyone were ready to blow back out, as soon as the weather changed or the fancy struck them? We’ve got an Airbnb next door to us and you should see the way those people vaguely, skeptically regard us—like we’re sort of sad sacks, “stuck” here. When we wave hello, they scurry away, afraid we’ll want to talk.
They don’t shovel the fuckin’ snow off their sidewalk, I can tell you that.
I think we need everything except the massive game of musical chairs that Airbnb Nation would create—”a decentralization of living,” as Chesky calls it. Instead, we could use more locality, more community, more meetings with the alderman, more bars with regulars, more relationships that involve the swapping of food and practical advice.
And if we don’t need more of that sort of thing—we certainly don’t need less!
I love the romantic idea of life as a global moveable feast. I also love the romantic idea of being 28, flush and unattached. And I cheer such people—retirees, too! and my pal in Arizona!—who manage to pull off a life like that for a few years. And if Airbnb makes it easier to do that, more power to ’em.
But Chesky’s grand vision of millions of people constantly on the move really shouldn’t appeal to anyone who thinks about what makes a cohesive society, a nation, a community, a neighborhood—or even a family.
And when Chesky personally wearies of these endless fortnight-long forays, as I predict he soon will, it’ll prove the emptiness of the vision, and maybe the visionary, too.