Is it the end of the world as we know it?

Neo-Capitalist Consumers beware! We have been seeing the rise of the sharing economy for some time now. While the “sharing” part has always existed between families, friends, and neighbors, the “economy” part refers to the fact that now we do the same thing, but money is exchanged as well as a product or service.

But, when did we move away from the sharing mode and into the “MINE! It’s all MINE!” mode? Probably sometime after President Carter and the oil shortage scares of the late 70’s when it was “cool” to reduce, reuse and recycle. Then came the selfish 80’s and the huge budget surplus years of the 90’s (which was great, but it turned us ‘Mericans into a bunch of consumerist porkers and gave us the “Disposable Economy”), and here we are today, almost 20 years into the 2000’s, and we’re finally seeing (some of us) that no, not everyone needs his own $4,000 fresh pasta maker to use once a year.

And it is definitely a first world problem, but since we grew up in the good old US of A, most of us as children never experienced having to go to an internet café (not a Starbucks) to use someone else’s computer to do homework or print things. Yes, that modality exists in lots of other countries.

So now we’re discovering just how awesome it is to share stuff, even if you have to pay a fee for it. Uber and Airbnb are considered the pioneers in this new sharing economy, but even Netflix could be considered part of the same model. You pay a monthly fee to have access to thousands of programs and movies, but you don’t actually own anything. It’s all like a very short-term rental agreement.  

Trading or selling up-cycled used goods, peer-to-peer lending or micro-financing, crowdsourcing or user-generated content, and the pay-as-you-use model (like the internet café thing) are all parts of this new sharing economy. Here, the important element is not necessarily the company or product to be sold, but rather the people who are interacting and creating goods and services where before no viable ones existed.

Of course, the sharing economy won’t be applicable to all things, until we start living on communes and sharing even our sleeping spaces like the Vikings, but it is an interesting way to reduce our ridiculously high levels of consumption of finite natural resources.