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Caring is sharing

Oct 28 2012 13:03 *Ian Mann

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NEED some place to stay on your next business trip or vacation? Why not look at AirBnB, where people advertise their spare room, tree house, or the castle they are not occupying? 

In itself, this is hardly a new idea; the only element that is new is the methodology of communication. Yet it is a significant sign of the times that people are sharing what they don’t use with others and making money at the same time. 

In case you are tempted to ascribe the trend  to the economic necessity of the times, it was spreading at a rapid pace before 2008.  

According to the authors, "collaborative consumptions" are a new trend that is strengthening daily, literally. There are three forms this new trend can take: sharing of services, redistribution of goods and collaborative lifestyles. 

To work, collaborative consumption requires critical mass (which is already there,) idling capacity (which we have in abundance,) a belief in the idea of commons (an idea in its infancy,) and trust between strangers (which technology can solve.)  

The 20th century was defined in large measure by hyper-consumption, and we defined ourselves by what we owned or consumed. It seemed as if the more we had the better we were considered to be by peers, and the happier we thought we would be. 

We acquired unusable amounts of goods such as kitchen equipment we don’t use, clothes we are sorry we bought and so much more. The effect is that rentable storage has increased by 740% in the past two decades, and in the US people are spending more on storage of things they don’t use than on milk, coffee or even beer.

The accumulation of goods and our conspicuous consumption has not made us any happier - if anything, it has made us less happy according to research. 

“Conspicuous consumption” was a term coined by the Norwegian economist Veblen to describe the nouveau riche, a class emerging at the time who were eager to display their wealth and power. Not much change there.

Denis Diderot wrote a  thought-provoking essay entitled Regrets on Parting With My Old Dressing Gown, describing how a friend's gift of a beautiful scarlet dressing gown changed his home. It made other things look shabby so they had to be changed. This made others things in his home look out of place and so they had to be replaced in turn, including pieces of furniture.

“We might just be coming out of the consumer trance we have been living in for the past 50 years or so,” suggest the authors. The consequence is the realisation that we no longer need to own things when we don't use them. How many minutes a year do you use the electric drill you dashed out to buy? Then extend that to all the other acquisitions.

Collaborative consumption is not asking people to “play nicely and share in the sandbox”  -rather, it puts in place a system whereby we can share resources without sacrificing our personal freedom or lifestyle.

Do you have a car you are paying off but only use two hours a day? Why not rent it to a reliable person instead of paying to park it? The internet can let others see your car, but it can also be a source for the would-be renter to show off his reputation for using people’s cars and returning them on time and in good order.  

He achieves this reputation by reviews of his conduct on the site by people he has borrowed cars from, just as he can see a review of the condition of the car on offer based on other users' assessments. 
 
The authors describe events where people swap clothes they do not use (the only criterion is that they are in excellent condition,) for clothes someone else is not using. There are toy libraries where toys can be borrowed and returned (all are sanitised), saving you buying new ones when they lose their novelty. 

Most of the identified sites monetise the process, but there are also those that make donating simpler.

If the authors are correct, the 21st century will be defined by what we can access, how we share and what we give away. With the enormity of the waste produced by our consumption for which we have no space and the effects on the environment of what we dispose, sharing will become a necessity. 

Believing we should own not share is not a natural, innate human condition. We can unlearn this desire; after all, we tell our kids to that “sharing is caring.”  

The authors make a very compelling case for an important idea. Worth reading and sharing.

Readability:    Light ---+- Serious
Insights:   High -+--- Low
Practical:   High ---+- Low
 
 - Fin24

*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy.

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