Behold the Toilet-Sharing App: The Last Frontier of the Cooperative Economy

We make it a point to emphasize the benefits of community sharing and cooperative resource pooling here at TreeHugger. It's why we love product service systems, renting instead of owning, and crowd-sourcing networks that maximize efficiency. There are tons of great services and budding ideas that hinge on this principle, and cut down on resource use in the process -- ZipCar, Netflix, Couchsurfing, Carpooling apps, Weeels, tool libraries, the list goes on. We've shared music, cars, clothes, advice, our belongings. But the question is: Will we share our bathrooms?

An incredibly optimistic new iPhone app called CLOO seems to think that we will. As the video above illustrates, the idea is this:

CLOO' is a community of registered users who choose to share their bathrooms and make city-living easier, while earning a small profit. Using social media connections, CLOO' shows what friends you have in common with the host, turning a stranger's loo into a friend of a friend's loo.
So, you're in the East Village in Manhattan, and you have to take a crap. You get turned down by bodega owners and slice joint purveyors. What do you do -- head for the bushes in Tompkins Square Park? Nope: You look up CLOO to find a "friend of a friend" who might let you drop on by to dump.

Here's why I like this app: it reflects an fantastically optimistic vision of humanity. Its founders view the world as being full of people who will happily let strangers in off the street to poop in their bathrooms. And it's really not such a bad idea -- the lack of public restrooms in cities like New York is a real problem. But we're not quite there yet, I'm afraid. Just take a look at this Gizmodo writer's paranoid freakout over the concept:

Places I don't want complete strangers: #1, lying on top of my bed while I'm having sex. #2, relieving themselves inside my bathroom. CLOO thinks I'm in the minority, and is facilitating the latter. NO. NO NO NO. WHAT. NO.

... Unless I need spare dollars to feed the worst heroin addiction mankind has ever known, or am conducting a social experiment to see how many times I can be strangled to death, I don't want strangers in my apartment using my bathroom. I don't want strangers in my apartment baking cakes. I don't want strangers in my apartment reading to me as I fall asleep. I don't want strangers in my apartment.

Now, I know writing for the Internet fundamentally requires you to overreact to everything you find distasteful. But this goes beyond criticizing a well-intentioned app and into the realm of airing the kind of psychological insecurities that prevent even less ambitious sharing-based apps from working. We still have a pretty pronounced distrust of strangers here in the US (which I would argue results in part from widening income inequality and increasing diversity, but that's a thesis for another day), and asking them to share bathrooms is definitely a stretch.

Most folks aren't so hyperbolically anti-stranger, but most folks don't want people they don't know sharing their private bathrooms, either. It'd be a pretty great thing if we lived in a society where you'd feel safe and comfortable enough to let any given citizen use your commode. It's just a bathroom, after all, and a basic human function. In fact, maybe that will be the litmus test for the true arrival of a fully-formed, well-functioning sharing economy: When something like CLOO actually works.

Tags: United States | Waste