Sharing. It’s one of the first things most children are urged to do.
Few children, though, have the presence-of-mind to ask their parents when they last shared their weed-eater, their water blaster or even their car.
The fact that virtually every garage has one of each of the above suggests the concept of sharing has some way to go in the adult world.
Yet if dwindling resources and growing population is the biggest issue of our times, this will need to change. Everyone with one item of everything is not a sustainable thought.
It points to a new type of economy in future where access to goods will be as important as their ownership.
We’re already seeing signs of The Sharing Economy in action, thanks to the internet. As outputs are becoming increasingly digital, they’re also becoming increasingly shared – or at least “shareable”.
In the internet age, the property values inherent in an idea are becoming increasingly less about title and more about how that property is applied. After all, an idea that isn’t shared is of little or no value.
Yale Professor Yochan Benckler refers to ‘commons-based peer production”, pointing to Wikipedia, Skype and open source software as examples of a new age of “sharing nicely”. He says that while, for example, building a global VOIP network would be unimaginable for a single organisation, plug several million users together each with spare capacity on their PCs together and you’ve achieved the same thing.
But how do we bring the same ‘shareability’ and share willingness to the real world.
The answer lies in the same place. The internet has created the opportunity for companies like www.hirethings.co.nz to encourage people to share excess goods that might otherwise sit unused year after year, sold at a major discount or be discarded altogether. Hirethings, a product of Wellington’s business incubator, Creative HQ, is at the front edge of the Sharing Economy.
Trade Me is also a trail-blazer in efficient ‘recycling’ of unused, or under-used, goods. But the idea of sharing goods can make more sense of both sides. The owner keeps utility, gains economic benefit and can even turn it into a business from home. For the hirer, it means no capital outlay, the chance to sample (in the case of a new hobby, for example) and, of course, to leave more space in the shed.
Rachel Botsman, the author of ‘What’s Mine is Yours’ calls it “collaborative consumption”, resulting from the coincidence of economic, social and technological change. Her book claims that unlike the 20th century, defined by credit advertising and what we owned, we’re now in an age defined by reputation, community and what we can access. Hyper consumption vs collaborative consumption.
Businesses helping drive this trend ranges from ZipCar (allowing people to borrow any of its 6,500 cars for as little as an hour) through to Nice Ride, the United States’ largest Bike sharing scheme through to Bartercard.
It’s a return to the traditions of sharing, bartering, swapping, trading, lending, renting and hiring, but in a more organised way.
‘Collaborative Consumption’, though, is a bit of a mouthful. The Sharing Economy talks more effectively of underlying economic change as well as playing to the twin meanings of the word ‘economy.
But for The Sharing Economy to become economically as significant as it deserves – or needs – to be will take a sea-change in our view of the importance of utility over ownership.
The vision of Hirethings, and other sharing concerns like it, is reason for confidence. Economics, technology, communications and environmental forces are in play that may, at last, be a match for human nature.
It could also mean we’ll be up for less scrutiny when we say to junior; “now share”.