After World War II, communities and the trust they fostered began to erode in the United States. We moved away from dense city centers to fenced in suburban lots separated by broad highways. It’s a picture of modern loneliness: “low population density and the loss of natural social gatherings on the porch, the street, or the corner drugstore made sharing experiences and insulating problems more difficult.” While the Cold War had us questioning our next-door neighbors, big brands emerged to capture our trust. We became consumers.
Fast forward to the internet. Suddenly, without physically moving, people could reach out and meet one another. Connections between people multiplied beyond anything previously imagined. The web allowed us to rediscover individual voices and share our experiences like never before.
Today, our houses, our cars, and our stuff are no longer the sole signifiers of status. We’ve moved beyond keeping up with the Joneses’ stuff to caring about experiences. Sharing vacation pictures, original music, or tweeting about last night’s dinner are basically the same thing as showing off a brand-new Nintendo Entertainment System to your friends. My status amongst my friends skyrocketed that day.
As part of this shift, I am amazed by the way Airbnb has changed the way our customers connect with each other and their willingness to trust complete strangers. It says a lot about what technology can facilitate, but it says even more about people. Obviously I can’t speak for all of history, but, personally, I’ve never experienced anything like this before.
When Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk and I started Airbnb nearly a decade ago, our goal was to help people share their homes, a part of themselves, and make travel accessible to a wider audience. After 100 million guest arrivals, we have the bandwidth and experience to meaningfully deconstruct our progress and ask some crazy questions.
Introducing Samara, a design studio that builds on these new attitudes towards the trust that we’ve discovered through Airbnb. With that trust, we have the capacity to break through more barriers and in turn allow our community members to better serve each other.
We know it takes more than sympathy to build the kind of trust we’re aiming for. Sympathy relies on a common experience. If you’re clumsy, you might have sympathy for others who tend to bump into things. Empathy, on the other hand, is the ability to understand another person’s feelings even if you’ve never experienced them yourself. To be truly empathetic we have to acknowledge that we’re all human, we’re all flawed, and that life can be difficult. And we have to be willing to accept a little of this misalignment.
Of course we can’t expect people to be empathetic in every scenario. Empathy typically comes naturally or it doesn’t come at all. So how do we design for something like that? It might seem impossible because there are so many factors that need to be taken into consideration — identity, political agency, socioeconomics, cultural values, family dynamics, relationships, etc. In the way that Airbnb’s design allows complete strangers to share experiences with one another, Samara seeks to design new kinds of experiences that address these factors through the channel of our community.
We’re already at work asking a lot of questions and exploring a wide range of concepts, all connected by the possibility of serving the future of our community. How might community change what it means to be displaced in the world, and could technology play a role in that? How can travelers interact with shrinking communities? What makes a home truly smart, and how does that affect those who interact with it?While we’re interested in designing experiences and services, what really drives us is this: to keep dismantling barriers and creating ways for the members of our community to support and connect with each other. I’m super excited for what comes next.
The journey is long. And we’re just getting started. Check out samara.airbnb.com