ASPEN, Colo.—Brian Chesky, the co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, an online marketplace for people to rent out their homes in lieu of hotels or other accommodations, has a theory for how urban-living has progressed over the last several hundred years. The theory begins in pre-industrial villages, wends its way through the Machine Age, and arrives in cities where services like Airbnb are thriving.
"Cities used to be generally villages, and everyone was essentially kind of like an entrepreneur," he said at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is sponsored by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. "You were either a farmer, or you worked in the city as a blacksmith, or you had some kind of trade. And then the Industrial Revolution happened." World War II followed, and "suddenly cities became more and more mass-produced. And we stopped trusting our neighbors."
Now, he argues, trust, mediated by technology, is making a comeback, along with the paradigm of the village. It's what's motivating millions of people in tens of thousands of cities around the world to book lodging with semi-screened strangers through his service. Choose your buzzword: the sharing economy, the peer-to-peer economy, the trust economy. Whatever you call it, it's what's propelled not just Airbnb, but also new car services like Uber and Lyft and labor services like TaskRabbit.
This is "the Internet moving into your neighborhood," Chesky said. "And what it really means is that people, for the first time, can become micro-entrepreneurs. They can actually build a reputation, and they can offer goods and services."