It All Began with an Airbed
The ability to monetise the use of idle resources has led to a string of micro-entrepreneurs, people who have created an income stream by regularly hiring out their goods or services, including cars, bicycles, tools, clothing and even their spare time to run other people’s errands, via the sharing economy. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, global revenue from the sharing economy is around 15 billion USD per year and could potentially climb to 335 billion USD per year by 2025.
Collaborative Consumption: Breaking the ‘I, Me, Mine’ Habit
Whether we are actively aware of it or not, the internet goes a long way towards creating, or at least supporting and facilitating, sharing and collaboration between unrelated parties. In 2009, Wired published an article arguing that the internet was helping to usher in a new kind of socialism (or “dot communism” as one commentator put it) albeit minus the ideology, pushing participants along a spectrum from sharing, cooperation, collaboration to collectivism. Quoting activist John Barlow, the article argues that the decentralised nature of the world wide web has given rise to a “…gift or barter economy where there is no property and where technological architecture defines the political space.”
As a flow on from this, perhaps one of the reasons that the sharing economy creates so much controversy among some theorists and strategists is that (on the outside at least) its snubbing of outright ownership hits at the core of capitalism, shaking off the bloated “greed is good” mentality in favour of something more balanced like “what’s mine is your is ours is good”.
The Verge took a look at this increased willingness to share trumping our desire to accrue large numbers of personal assets. Drawing what at first seems like a very long bow, the article compared falling murder rates in the USA to the rise of the sharing economy, arguing (somewhat audaciously) that the internet has gone some ways in breaking down fears and perhaps, thanks to things such as social media and online seller ratings systems, even (partially) renewing our trust in strangers.
Of Liability and Loopholes – the Legal Side
Benefits to the Environment
Though not primarily driven by environmental goals, the sharing economy poses manifold benefits to the environment, encouraging people to reuse or recycle goods rather than source new ones. Resources can be used more efficiently and having access to a good or service can often negate the need to take ownership of a product, thereby saving on materials and energy needed to produce a product from scratch.
Should I or Shouldn’t I?
For every pro, there is of course a con such as some of the key legal issues outlined above. Trust is also a key factor when deciding to take part in the sharing economy. Unlike established brands, individuals loaning or selling online don’t necessarily have the track record to prove that they are providing a quality service or product. To counter this, many sharing economy websites have adopted an Ebay-like ratings system where sellers or users are rated by those who have undertaken transactions with them in order to help build trust.
Check out our Act Now Guide to see what and how you can start borrowing or loaning.
Author: Anna Rees/ RESET editorial