As wages stagnate and citizens are under continued pressure to buy and consume and most of all want, people are exploring new ways to fulfill needs and desires through subletting rather than ownership. Why own a lawnmower you use a few times a month, when you can rent your neighbor’s, or even buy in on one as a group? Similarly, why own a little-used car and be held responsible for insurance, maintenance, and repairs when you can rent a Zipcar on an as-needed basis? Heck, why spend $200 on a fancy dress for one special event when you can rent it for $40? (That’s right—women’s clothing has finally gone the way of the tux.) An added bonus: less resource strain, as more consumers get their needs met with fewer items.
The sharing economy, as it’s called, is primarily peer-to-peer—meaning a person’s need or want is fulfilled by a peer rather than a specialized business—but can also involve corporations that act as intermediaries: for instance, vacation rental site Airbnb.com serves as an advertising and service liaison between people on holiday and property-owners renting out their space. Collaborative consumption is a more grassroots subgenre of the sharing economy, typically without the corporate middleman. A neighborhood toy library or tool shed fits this description aptly. Whatever it is, The Economist and The New York Times are humming about it.
Local expressions of this trend abound, with Little Free Libraries popping up all over town, community-supported agriculture programs enjoying hearty support, the Corvallis Hours local currency chugging along, and Southtown’s Coho EcoVillage, the ultimate example of collaborative consumption, with its shared guest room, kids’ play room, and tool shed.
Strides in technology and online interconnectedness have greatly enabled the surge of this movement. The Internet offers boundless access to others with similar interests or needs, and makes meeting those unique needs and wants easier than ever. Even mundane sites like scheduling service Doodle.com help people with varied schedules find ways to connect in person.
With sharing made easier than ever, this strengthened movement could help achieve the vision of a steady state economy, a resource-sustainable economy detailed by Herman Daly and championed by local author Rob Dietz (who recently co-authored Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources). People who have thrown their hands up at the current system but continue to participate for lack of a better option now have an alternative. The sharing economy may not be perfect and it may not suit everyone, but it does offer real change without sacrificing many of the conveniences we hold dear. Who knew going halfsies on a deep freezer with your in-laws was such an act of economic defiance?
For More Information…
What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption by Rachel Botsman
Share or Die: Voices of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis edited by Malcom Harris
On the Web:
Shareable.net—Encouraging the sustainable lifestyle, with up-to-date news and instructional blogs on such things as How to Share a Cow, How to Reinvent the Potluck, How to Start Your Own Seed Lending Library, How to Share Your Car Like a Pro in 5 Easy Steps, and How to Turn a Payphone into a Library.
CollaborativeConsumption.com—a group promoting the sublet economy with a giant directory of sharing services and products around the world, with everything from nanny shares to task outsourcing to chef/party matchmaking.
Hourexchange.org—Corvallis’ local currency, based on a time bank model. Ten Corvallis “Hours” are equivalent to one hour of a skill or trade, and can be exchanged for another skill or trade.
LocalHarvest.org—to learn more about supporting local farms and a directory of CSA programs across the nation, including a zipcode search for programs and products.
Sorry Superman, This Phonebooth’s Claimed
Looks like somebody read Shareable.net’s blog on converting a payphone into a book exchange. A few weeks ago, the defunct payphone downtown on 2nd Street between Madison and Monroe received an adorable—and literary—makeover. It has been filled with books.
Next time you stagger out of the Peacock at 2 a.m. looking for trouble, make a stop at the local phonebooth. After all, it’s got plenty of action, romance, drama, and suspense (in paperback).
By Mica Habarad