On the Road

Couchsurfing Can Also Be A Bit Sad

Long live the geek.

We wrote an editorial a while back praising the internet miracle of couchsurfing.com, a site that proved the spirit of hospitality and the milk of human kindness weren’t a thing of the past, just out of fashion. People shared their homes with other travelers and a new way to experience a foreign culture was born.

The thing is, couchsurfing.com is also a bit crap.

With a million and a half members (and growing), it’s perhaps natural for a social network to lose the spirit of its early days. While it was once common to browse through surfers who had all hit the road for extended periods, practised yoga and loved the Fabulous Adventures of Amelie, now it’s fast becoming a kind of a social crutch, a susbtitute for real social interaction. Each city has its own group and you have only to announce a dinner party or drinks at your local cafe for any number of adrift souls to come along to join you. The conversations generally go like this:

“So where are you from?”

Oh, god we’re back to hostel smalltalk.

“Spain.”

“Oh, I was there last year!”

Yes, you and 60 million others.

“So how long have you been part of Couchsurfing?”

Long enough to know that being part of the same social network doesn’t qualify as having anything in common.

But even if Couch Surfers are thinking the above they never say it as Couch Surfing is all about the spirit of hospitality and culture exchange. A kind of Christmas spirit prevails where everyone is ostensibly interested in everyone else. All kinds of banal generalities about climate and culture are exchanged (You Danish must be used to this cold, eh? I’m Spanish so I sing Flamenco) and after a few beers you can almost convince yourself you’ve actually made some friends – rather than just met with other lonely people who happen to have an internet connection.

We live in the age of diluted values and dumbed down culture made digestible for an attention-deficient consumerist population, so perhaps it’s no surprise that friendship and hospitality should follow the same pattern. We all present our best photos on our profiles, our wisest observations on Facebook and strive to make a good impression on those we meet, if only to avoid a negative reference on our favourite social network.

Which is why at Couchsurfing meet-ups everyone is continually on display. At the parties people strive to be wild and groovy on the dance floor, while in conversation they’re cultured and open-minded. In short, it can feel like everyone is in an interview room all the time.

Couchsurfing is a cool phenomenon and a great tool for the traveler but can end up being a bit empty as a way of life. The events are often stilted and awkward but for many it beats being alone in front of a laptop.

We live in the age of the geek.