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Illustration by Kyle Bean

Living In The Cloud: Apps Can Get You Only So Far

We can create an app for almost every aspect of our lives—except the most important part.

For several years, my official bio has claimed that I "reside in Brooklyn and live on Twitter." Based on the hours I spent in my Brooklyn apartment versus those immersed in the real-time stream-o-sphere, the statement felt only slightly ridiculous. Late last summer, when my building management decided not to renew the leases of any renters and instead sell the units as condos, my Twitter bio went from mildly amusing to all too true.

Just 10 days after being relieved of my apartment, I had to deploy to the political conventions in Tampa and Charlotte. There was simply no time to find a replacement home. How could I raise a seed round of financing for a security deposit and broker's fee in just over a week? Also, I didn't think I could bear the emotional cost of so much real estate spin right before witnessing America's major parties attempt to out-pander each other. Some might call me homeless, but I strongly prefer the term residentially flexible.

I was actually excited by the prospect. As someone who travels more than he sits still, I wouldn't mind avoiding rent payments for an apartment I rarely see. And we're in a golden age of living-by-smartphone, right? Everything I need is just an app-store download away. So I put all but five bags, my surfboard, and my bike into storage. Forget cloud computing. I was ready to try cloud living—like Cupid or the Care Bears!

I began with Airbnb. I found a dream home for 10 magical days. It was truly the best apartment I've ever seen in New York City. The problem: I did not want to leave. I considered getting the tenants evicted by planting bedbugs, but I worried about the fate of their adorable 1-year-old daughter and knew I couldn't take responsibility for her, so I returned the keys, and I moved on.

For a while, I depended on the Hotel Tonight iPhone app to find same-day deals—often more than 50% off—on hotels in many major cities. I tried to make each hotel room my own by setting out a troll doll that belonged to my mother and rewiring the television to run off of my Apple TV. Voila! Casatunde! But the excitement of staying in a hotel in my own hometown wore off quickly, usually after I woke up several times a month with no idea where or who I was.

My most sustainable option was couch-surfing—not the web service, but the activity where you stay with friends and share your life with people who care about you. Weird, right? I was fortunate to have two friends in adjoining Brooklyn neighborhoods who took me in. One of them has what I am convinced is the best dog on the East Coast, and nothing says home like waking up to a pit bull licking your face.

In the end, I found that I couldn't live completely in the cloud. You can dog-sit for someone using DogVacay, the "Airbnb for dogs," but it's not the same as "my" Elle the Dog, who has her own website featuring images of her balancing objects on her head (ellethedog.com), greeting you daily. There's no app to avoid the awkward moment when people ask, "Where do you live?" and you respond, "I'm sort of floating right now between some friends, Airbnb, and United Airlines... " There are a ton of subway and map apps, but they can't repair a commute that changes three times a week. I love the creativity of entrepreneurs trying to appify all the aspects of our lives, but even the residentially flexible need the pattern and familiarity of minimally populated walls.

For now, I'm subletting from a friend who's away for several months—which gives me time to find the place all my apps couldn't: a new home.

Baratunde Thurston is the author of the New York Timesbest seller How to Be Black and the founder of Cultivated Wit, a comedy and technology company that tells stories in engaging ways.

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1 Comments

  • Sandra Nickel

    As a residential REALTOR, I know all too well that home is more than a place:  it's a refuge.  Even more, it's an affair of the heart.  Applaud Thurston's attempt to free himself from the confines of a single space and his honesty in revealing that he needs a nest after all.