The Digital Sharing Economy
When it comes to the Sharing Economy, Attila Marton, professor of digitalization at Copenhagen Business School, believes there are three constructs:
- The real sharing economy where items like food are shared by a family or flatmates. Wikipedia is an example where knowledge is shared openly.
- Gift giving is when a product or service like a birthday cake is shared with the expectation it will be reciprocated to others on their birthdays. Open source is an example where programmers shared software and coding freely.
- The pseudo-sharing economy, “an incorporation and monetization of the informal economy—small, unregulated transactions like street food, taxis, or anything that is seen as ‘off the books’.“
The sharing economy is expected to grow to $300 billion by 2025. The premise of this economy: “You can cycle to work on a Lime bike, you can get home in an Uber. You can order food from Deliveroo and you can get rid of your old food on Olio. As resources have become more expensive, and our awareness of reducing our consumption has grown, digital platforms and startups have offered a solution—sharing.”
Beyond the Billions
When I was writing my first book in 2014, I interviewed a woman in Greece. Cora shared, “In America, you call it the sharing economy with Uber and Airbnb. Here in Greece, we call it life. We rent out a room in our house as a way to pay our bills.” And she continued to point out that Uber does not own the cars and Airbnb does not own the homes or real estate.
Maybe we have an opportunity to examine our current reality with a healthy lens when it comes to truly sharing?
Staying at an Airbnb can be a gamble: you may love it or be disappointed. Recently, I stayed at a rental that looked nothing like the photos, the owners’ stuff was everywhere and it was not very clean. And sometimes hotels are nothing like the photos as well. But there is someone to talk to at a hotel who is accountable. Unlike home sharing, there is no service fee for move-out cleaning added on top of the rental fee.
Instead I stayed at a boutique hotel where the owners offer an experience. The property has been owned by four generations. There are people who stay there who met three years ago and come back every year on the same week. And they are planning a birthday in another city where this same community will travel and celebrate together. There’s a lot of sharing going on.
The shift with companies like Airbnb and others is that many of the hosts are companies and not individuals sharing their homes. The goal is to be profitable and get a slice of the billions to outperform the market.
Has the Sharing Economy Always Been Here?
Ride sharing promised a sharing economy. Businesses like Uber and Lyft sprung up under the brand marketing tool called the Collaborative Economy. But we have to look deeper to understand its sustainability and its long-term impact.
Look further under the layers, and we find that while these services do provide sharing services in that local drivers use their cars to drive passengers. But not much has really changed when it comes to commoditizing the worker and making the people at the top wealthy.
There is a lot of talk about the wisdom of the crowd, but in this scenario, it does not seem necessarily true because the sharing economy has been constructed within the old paradigm in which few know how to truly collaborate and share.
Today, there are new riding sharing companies like Alto who have their own employees. In the past, we called them taxis or car services. Maybe more are even fueling car rentals?
What’s Old is Sometimes New, Like Sharing
We can pay thousands of dollars to experience an iconic musician perform live these days. And many do. But imagine what could happen if instead we supported local musicians in our communities. That $4,000 ticket can go a long way in experiencing many shows. It is not merely about the money we spend but an opportunity to share and grow communities together.
We can get our food delivered to our door. But what if we connected with local farmers and creators and became aware of how we source everything in our life. What if we knew the people who grew our food or created our favorite soaps?
When was the last time we had a conversation with someone at a shop or a restaurant? Maybe instead of rating the delivery person on efficiency, we had a conversation about their day or life? Maybe we walk to new places and support our local owners and move our bodies?
While I love technology, I also love experiencing life and supporting conscious people and organizations. This is where going back to basics with values rather than supporting schemes to make more money becomes meaningful. And isn’t it also our responsibility to discern with our hearts? But to do so, we need to make healthy choices and suck less at collaboration.
The present and the future is about community and sharing in ways we never imagined—from a conversation to endless possibilities.
The future is about human connection. We write the stories in our lives when it comes to sharing and collaborating. So this future is up to each of us with the choices we make when we understand that an economy is simply a value exchange. The question then, is what do we value and who do we trust?