Wikipedia defines the sharing economy as the “economic and social systems that enable shared access to goods, services, data and talent. These systems take a variety of forms but all leverage information technology to empower individuals, corporations, non-profits and government with information that enables distribution, sharing and reuse of excess capacity in goods and services. A common premise is that when information about goods is shared, the value of those goods increases, for the business, for individuals, and for the community. ”
Most of us have heard of AirBnB and other hotel alternatives, enabling users to rent a room or an entire apartment. The sharing economy extends to vehicles (options range from finding available spots on car rides to borrowing cars from neighbours. In the retail sector, websites like WishWantWear, Rent the Runway, and Bag, Borrow or Steal rent out designer clothes and accessories for special occasions. Sites like Frents go beyond a particular sector and let users lend and borrow items from DVDs to board games. A great directory for the sharing economy is Plopp.us. (Full disclosure: This is a Global Shapers Community project from the Amsterdam Hub.)
What interests me most about this paradigm is the way it changes our behaviour: it maintains the experience of having the things we like to use (from a Missoni cocktail dress to the occasional game of Scrabble) without the cost, physical space, or materials to own these items and only use them once in a while. There is a social element as well: If I’m borrowing items from people nearby, I have a new way to get to know my neighbours. We develop a shared sense of responsibility and identity. It’s a digital way to create a community feeling in neighbourhoods, particularly in big cities where these kinds of opportunities have been lacking.
Changing our behaviour changes the way we think, and ultimately, our values. The use of social media spread the idea that everyone has a voice and enabled young people to demand democratic ideals from their governments. If the sharing economy becomes mainstream, then what will it do for sustainability, community, and the future of consumption? I hope to see the shared economy help us adapt a more sustainable and collaborative lifestyle.