Let’s take a step back and look at what hospitality services like Couchsurfing are really about. It is pretty obvious that almost all of the real-life activity associated with CS (hosting, being a guest, organising and attending meetings, collectives, etc) all require one simple thing from all participants: mutual trust. The content of profiles and of course especially the references (and vouches) are very much designed towards determining trust. Perhaps couchsurfing.com actually more a trust network than a travel network?
Yesterday, I loaned two American girls a key to my house. I had met them about 30 minutes before that. They followed me home from the train station, happily handing over parts of their luggage to relieve their own back. None of us asked for passports, identification, or anything. They are 19 years old. If you would try to explain this to an average person, they’d probably declare us nuts, but they would be mistaken. It is pure and simple “trust by default” and an extremely refreshing feeling considering the world we live in.
Oddly enough, it appears that for the organisation of Couchsurfing, this basic principle of trusting each other has been completely turned on its head. Of course, the most obvious and glaring distrust is between people in the leadership team and anyone critical of them. We have come to the point that practically any statement critical of the leaders results in the commenter being filed under the “haters” category, which can only happen if CS leaders like Jim Stone or Matthew Brauer distrust any interested volunteers by default. Worse, they have taken actions in return that can only be interpreted as defensive (moving of threats on forums, taking away rights on the Wiki, etc etc).
If you look at the organisational structure of Couchsurfing, you will notice that “distrust by default” is present everywhere. You cannot become ambassador if the already established ambassadors don’t explicitly trust you and it is very obvious they have a very different standard for that than they would as CS hosts. Worse still, you can’t ever become an admin or a leader if Casey doesn’t trust you personally and his criteria are, to say the least, murky. What do Jim and Matthew have in common which makes them elligable for this top position?
- A long term relationship with Casey.
- A fondness for partying hard*. (Burning man, etc.)
*This is something we hardly ever talk about, but common knowledge for anyone who’s been to a collective. It’s one of those unspoken truths that everyone seems to avoid on OCS, because it can easily be interpreted as a personal attack. To be clear: I’m not making moral judgements here about how they spend their free time (hey, go nuts!), but it does worry me that the organisational top is held together by this. However juicy the rest of the gossip is, I’m happy it doesn’t appear here.
Perhaps, and this is speculation of course, this situation has to do with some fundamental aspect of Casey’s psyche. If anything, the structure of CS is a reflection of his personality. And aren’t Jim and Matthew merely “channeling” Casey’s fundamental distrust, while of course taking it a bit further than Casey ever did? The fact that Casey started a trust network doesn’t have to be a contradiction to this, it could easily be an overcompensation on his part.
I don’t expect Casey to suddenly see the light and invite “us” into his castle. This would require an almost superhuman effort. But, something will happen eventually. Maybe something or someone will “break” eventually. (Casey has quit the project before, he might do it again.) Maybe people will drift off in separate directions.
The only thing I can hope for is that – somewhere in the future – the Couchsurfing organisation will reflect the one thing that it’s members rely on every day: trust.
Have a great weekend. Thomas