By Danielle Zimmerman
Building upon comfort with sharing content and information online on sites like Flickr and Wikipedia we are recognizing the potential of sharing more than the digital –the tangible, our possessions. New options are emerging where the 20th-century mindset of buy-use-dispose is being replaced by systems where access trumps ownership and individuals take pride in their ability to consume resources only when they need to.
Product service systems like Zip Car allow you the benefit of access when you need it, without the hassles of ownership. Peer-to-peer exchange and rental networks like ThredUp and Zilok allow you sell outgrown children’s clothing or rent out just about anything for some extra cash. Whether you’re an entrepreneur looking for the next big opportunity or an individual looking to take some small steps toward a sustainable lifestyle sharing is becoming a lifestyle.
The increased tendency to share is more than a reaction to our economic anguish, it’s a social revolution founded on the revival of old-time values and a desire for camaraderie. Combined with an ever-growing awareness of personal environmental impact, comfort with social networks, and access to real-time technologies and location-based services, we have everything we need for low-effort high-satisfaction sharing.
It is obvious how technology makes matching “needs” with “ haves” much more efficient through the use of location-based information and constant connectedness. But, it’s beginning to do a lot more as the prevalence of social networks in our online life encourages us to trust the unknown and rely on the recommendations of others.
A must-read book published this fall, What’s Mine is Yours: the Rise of Collaborative Consumption, authors Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers predict this trend toward collaborative lifestyles will become a fully fledged economy within the next five years. They categorize the emerging market into three key system types: product service systems, redistribution markets, and collaborative lifestyle. They also dissect the underlying principles that enable the systems to thrive: idling capacity, critical mass, belief in the commons, and trust between strangers.
It’s easy to trust your neighbor to return a tool you lend him, however trusting a stranger is one of the first things we teach our children not to do. So how can organizations like Couchsurfing and EBay thrive when a user must depend on a complete stranger to be honest and reliable, in some instances even entering a stranger’s home? The way to promote this mindset is the development of a different kind of community. Although different business models, they both encourage an individual to trust a stranger based on the feedback or rating given by other strangers. This translates to overall satisfaction ratings consistently higher than 97%. Ratings in these communities are becoming akin to a personal reference.
These new modes of filling personal needs represent a social phenomenon that is re-inventing why and with whom we communicate, how we value things –both objects and experiences–, and what it means to trust. These systems, businesses or otherwise, are redefining ownership and value, by giving consumers more power to define what we want and how we want it.
No matter what you call it, sharing is more than a passing trend. It’s easy to take small steps toward living with less while still having it all. Think about what having less in your life might mean for you. The next time you “need” something evaluate how often or for how long you need it and consider borrowing instead. Why not host a holiday exchange with some friends or take a look in your garage or attic to find some things you haven’t used in a while and get online to find a community to share them with.