The Sharing Economy
Collaborative consumption is on the rise. Here's why that's a great thing for our whole society.
In January of 2013, I was restless. I was living in New York City but dreaming of life on the West Coast. Before I was willing to move my life three thousand miles away, however, I wanted to see what my job prospects might be like out there. So one snowed-in night, I wrote a piece for my blog and titled it: “New York–California House Swap This Summer.” After I hit publish, I barely gave it a second thought. Three weeks later, a woman from Santa Monica posted a comment that she was interested in taking me up on the offer. So we made it happen: I spent the summer of 2013 living in her California condo while she and her daughter took up residence in my apartment in Manhattan.
Our residential trade was a transaction in the booming sharing economy. Also known as the peer-to-peer economy, collaborative consumption, and the lending community, the sharing economy is based on a simple premise: utilize people’s underutilized assets. And we have a lot of underutilized assets among us. Bikes stored in basements. Cars parked in a lot twenty-two hours a day. Tool kits complete with hammers, wrenches, and pliers that have never been used. Leftovers from home-cooked meals. Extra time or special skills from which others could benefit.
The sharing economy exists to capture the value these things offer—value that otherwise would go to waste. All it requires is someone with a need, someone with a resource to meet that need, and a way for the two parties to safely and easily connect.
TaskRabbit is a perfect example of how it all works. The site lets users “outsource” their time-consuming, everyday tasks—cleaning out the gutter, organizing the closet, packing for a move, picking up the dry cleaning—to vetted local taskers. Here’s a possible TaskRabbit scenario: Jack is a freelance designer who is pretty handy around the house. He works from home, so he has a flexible schedule. Donna, who lives around the corner from Jack but has never met him, just had knee surgery and needs someone to put together some new shelves she ordered from Ikea. She logs on to TaskRabbit, and a few clicks later, she’s reviewing the ratings, profiles, and prices of three different taskers in her neighborhood. She selects Jack, who heads on over and builds those shelves that afternoon. As soon as he is done, he’s paid through the site’s easy, cash-free, secure system. On the surface, this is a simple exchange of value: Donna pays Jack to build her shelves. But the community and personal benefits run much deeper than that.
Wired magazine described the sharing economy as a “radical next step for the person-to-person marketplace pioneered by eBay: a set of digital tools that enable and encourage us to trust our fellow human beings.” Rachel Botsman, co-author of What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, gave a TED talk in 2012 that discussed how trust is the currency of the new economy. By engaging in marketplaces built on personal relationships rather than empty transactions, she says the sharing economy is “empowering people to make meaningful connections—connections that are enabling us to rediscover a humanness that we’ve lost somewhere along the way.” Instead of making purchases from the faceless corporations that dominate the consumer-based economy, people are turning to the marketplaces where they personally interact with friendly faces in their own city or town. With that local marketplace comes a sense of community and connection that is priceless. Especially when you consider that there are a growing number of niche marketplaces where you just may meet like-minded individuals in your area who share your passion for, say, gourmet cooking or for surfing. Soon enough, you could be on the path to a new friendship.
There are so many ways to join the sharing economy. We rounded up some of our favorite person-to-person marketplaces.
1Transportation And Recreation
When it’s a good day to take a bike ride, catch a wave, or hit the slopes, Spinlister can connect you with people in your neighborhood renting out their bikes, surfboards, snowboards, and skis. The peer-to-peer rental platform puts an emphasis on community connection, not commerce. “Rent a bike from someone like you” is the message on the home page. Mobile platforms such as RelayRides and Getaround are car-sharing platforms that connect vehicle owners with local renters, and Boatbound is a sharing platform for waterbound vessels.
Share and Share Alike
The new consumer model has both a feel-good and economic reasoning for its rapid adoption.
Why should every house on the block have a lawn mower when each household only mows its lawn for an hour or two a week? If the community pools its resources, everyone saves money, frees up storage space, and forges a connection with their neighbors. The consumer peer-to-peer rental market alone is currently estimated at $26 billion, a number that could grow exponentially over the next decade thanks to advances in technology, a rising level of trust among peer-to-peer consumers, and more millennials entering the marketplace. Millennials, who as a whole tend to value experience and access over ownership, are a huge part of the rise of collaborative consumption. In the impersonal digital age, the sharing economy physically brings people together, where they are healthier and happier. When we share, everyone wins.
2Cooking And Dining
Of its many benefits, the sharing economy provides the opportunity to improve the health and well-being of communities while drastically reducing food waste and providing healthy, home-cooked food at a reasonable price. In the United States, a whopping 40 percent of food is discarded while one in six Americans battle hunger every day. Food sharing is one of the key drivers of many start-up peer-to-peer marketplaces. Platforms such as EatWith, GrubClub, and Feastly give amateur cooks and professional chefs alike an opportunity to come together to prepare and enjoy a meal, effectively creating pop-up restaurants in people’s homes. Blue Apron and Plated provide home delivery of ingredients perfectly portioned to make a preselected number of servings using carefully tested recipes so no food goes to waste.
3Help Around The House
The sharing of goods and services with neighbors generates close, long-term relationships in a community. Zaarly gives home-service experts a quick and easy way to connect with neighbors who need repairs of all shapes and sizes, housecleaning help, and gardening assistance. If you find yourself in need of a ladder, sewing machine, or an Xbox for an afternoon, platforms such as Zilok and NeighborGoods will help you find neighbors who are renting the items for a reasonable price—no need to venture too far from home. And if you find yourself with an invite to a formal occasion and nothing to wear in your closet, Rent the Runway loans out the latest styles from fashion-forward brands—no need to buy a dress you’ll wear just once. Or if you prefer to own your look, Poshmark and Twice provide ways to buy and sell lightly used clothing online without hassle.
4Health And Wellness
One of the most fascinating and newest areas of the sharing economy seeks to directly disrupt and simplify the complicated field of health care. The location-based PulsePoint Respond app alerts CPR-trained bystanders if someone in the vicinity goes into sudden cardiac arrest and needs emergency assistance until the paramedics arrive. HelpAround, a diabetes-focused service, is one of a new breed of sharing services that seeks to connect people who have similar health challenges. Whether one person needs emergency supplies, medical consultations, or advice, HelpAround connects diabetics and their caregivers with one another and to the greater medical community in a highly personal and efficient way. HelpAround cofounder and CEO Yishai Knobel explains that the support component is especially important for people with health challenges, as research has shown that peer support drives medical outcomes. Health-based sharing economy services are literally saving lives every day.
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