I decided to join the CouchSurfing network to fully understand the breaking down of privacy boundaries, as it literally is letting a stranger into your home. I’ve heard a lot of positive and interesting stories from friends about CouchSurfing and was really intrigued to find out more. What I didn’t realise is that I would discover a whole new community. CouchSurfing instantly facilitates encounters with new people from all over the world in an open and (hopefully) honest environment. Your judgements on whether to stay with someone or host him or her are made quickly and perhaps alarmingly just from someone’s profile, akin to the old days of MySpace. People list their interests with as much detail as they like, from their favourite films to their ‘philosophy’ that is usually as predictably cheesy as you can imagine. You can read references left by friends and other couchsurfers, which is a good initiative but really puts on the pressure to leave a good impression so that you aren’t blacklisted with a negative reference.
It seems like the future of judging people and even meeting them is ever increasingly done online. Websites like Facebook and dating sites encourage and determine the use of technology as an agent for developing friendship and ‘finding the one’. Or perhaps in a lot of people’s cases induce you to unashamedly stalk people you barely know. How many times have you seen one of your friend’s family, housemates or friends in photographs before you’ve even met them and then upon finally being introduced have to pretend you like you don’t know them?
So from judging the person’s profile we choose whether to except them as a guest or request them to host you. Are more people judged on their photographs or what they write? Do we accept people from some countries and not others? Are ‘CouchSurfers’ as open-minded as we like to believe? I’m pretty sure that some people abuse the concept CouchSurfing and treat it as a dating site, although I am not dismissing this practice. It certainly becomes a lot harder to meet people when you are stuck in the daily grid of a full time job. Having new and exotic people come and stay with you as often as you’d like could make life a lot more interesting. I have heard stories of people starting a romance or crudely putting it, having a one-night-stand. Questionably, I do not think this is the usual custom, but not to be dismissed with two like-minded, consenting adults.
Anyhow, my own reasons and experience of CouchSurfing are entirely virtuous. I am using it as a chance to meet new people from different countries and essentially I am curious to see if there design opportunities to discover. I had my first couch surfer come and stay with me last week.
She was friendly and intelligent, putting me to shame by speaking four languages. I enjoyed hosting her for two nights, however I also had another close friend of mine staying with me so I think she helped me to relieve the pressure of having to constantly think of entertaining conversation. Obviously, there were few uncertainties such as do I offer food? Being a frugal student and already having a friend staying for the weekend I didn’t want to fork out of food for someone I haven’t met before. I was more than happy to offer some of my dinner but what about breakfast? It was socially unacceptable for me to sit in front of her eating my breakfast without offering anything. Another small problem was that one of my housemates was completely against the idea of a stranger sleeping in our house. Thankfully, it wasn’t as awkward as I had dreaded. The dynamics and complexities of CouchSurfing serve as interesting insights to how the model can be adapted and tailored by the host or the guest.
The couch surfer also wanted me to show her around central London more than I could, which made me realise that there is an element of being a tour guide with hosting people. Admittedly, I was not interested in seeing Big Ben again, but I was more than happy to show the local spots. Dependent on where and whom you stay with can paint a very different picture of a city, which is invariably the essence of CouchSurfing, experiencing the place from a unique and personal perspective. Overall, I found the experience enjoyable and insightful. I have my next couch surfer coming to stay this week.
The mode of photography in our own lives has developed rapidly in recent years; we are willing to show off our photos to the rest of the world through many different virtual sites such as Facebook, Flickr and various blogs. Even though our lives in some respects have become increasingly private, progressively dispersed and our homes ever more guarded we are willing to publicise our lives digitally. I would undoubtedly consider this to be a counter culture against privatization.‘In the virtual world, ideas about privacy are changing at the ground level and what we do online will have a greater impact upon future privacy laws than any legislation that results from the current offline inquiry’ states Aleks Krotoski in an article for The Observer [Krotoski, 2011].To a certain extent we are virtually inviting people into our private lives. We may communicate with people through social networking that we barely know, but I would be surprised if most people even spoke to their neighbours. But what interests me the most about unraveling and exposing the private realms of homes is how can I achieve this myself?
The answer already exists by taking the step beyond the virtual into reality in the form of the cultural and social phenomenon of hospitality exchanges via social networking. The movement has developed into a diverse array of sites promoting travel and independence such as: couchsurfing.org, airbnb.com and helpx.net among others inspire young and old minds. Helpx has been set up for travellers on a limited budget where they,’work up to 28 hours a week in exchange for food and accommodation’ [Cahalane, 2011]. People’s attitudes are changing to become more adaptable, flexible and adjustable.
The idea of couch surfing has been around for many years; staying on friends sofa’s or people’s couches through recommendation. But now it has become a fully formed legitimate internet- based network for users. CouchSurfing was set up ‘in 2004 and has grown to more than 2.4 million members’ [Kittle, 2011] Essentially the very core of CouchSurfing is trust.The very notion of ‘sleeping with strangers’ [Aslop, 2006] would be deemed absurd to many, nonetheless one only has to look the number of people involved to realise that it is a realistic, viable and a spur of the moment option. CouchSurfing facilitates the breaking down of privacy on an enormous scale. Its success has motivated Stanford University to carry out research on the CouchSurfing website. They explain,‘Since lack of trust may be at the root of problems such as corruption and poverty, they believe that figuring out how to build trust can benefit society as a whole’ [Santos, 2010]. Since the lack of trust is an ever-growing issue due to unequal societies the opening up of homes to strangers is a seminal feat achieved by CouchSurfing.
Our houses more than anything now serve as defenses to separate and ‘protect ourselves’ from the public and doors act to ‘stop and separate’ [Perec, 2008, p.37] us, acting as a divider or gateway. As soon as we pass through the front door we enter the realm of private space.An example of the increase in privacy beyond the realm of the home would be the rise in gated communities. These communities, or neighborhoods began in America about 20 years ago but there is also an increasing trend towards gated communities in England.This type of neighborhood is especially designed to keep certain people out.The elitist and controlling structure is an attempt for people to ‘shield themselves from the threats of a harsh and untrusting society’ [Wilkinson and Pickett., 2010, p.58].Where people are cocooned in their small dream world, which I believe creates segregation and leads to paranoia of the outside world. In my view I see that our homes are already private havens for us to retreat to, so that if the world continued to be made up of private gated communities the segregation divide between places we live would become insurmountable, comparable to a new kind of apartheid.We can observe extreme divides in living standards within the same cities and even neighborhoods. I have come to discover this in my current location, which borders the prosperous middle-class Greenwich and the deprived Deptford area. However, these areas are not separated from one another by physical barriers it is possible to walk, drive or catch public transport to and from each location.
The familiar photograph of opposing communities in Sao Paulo, Brazil illustrates the tremendous divide in many cities in the world.
What differs with gated communities is that one cannot pass through without the correct codes or identification and sometimes they can stretch for miles. On a much larger more dramatic scale gated communities are reminiscent of the Berlin Wall, and the huge stretch of the west bank wall dividing Israel and Palestine. On the largest and smallest of scales; boundaries, borders and territories have been fought over since the dawn of civilization. Irit Rogoff writes that space ‘is always subject to the invisible boundary lines which determine inclusions and exclusions’ [Rogoff, 2000, p.35]. In society we all see ourselves as individuals, and people have always wanted their own little or big bit of land for themselves.We are driven by the sense of power and privilege that owning something brings. But this struggle for privacy and ownership today has become endemic.