What’s Mine is Ours: Revolution and the Sharing Economy

What’s Mine is Ours: Revolution and the Sharing Economy

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Open hearts, open minds, open work schedules  —  we unpick how the sharing economy is transforming everything from careers to our basic sense of trust

Coworking Space Singapore

The Great Room Offices — a co-working space at One George Street in Singapore

Imagine you have a snazzy DSLR camera lying in your cupboard. It was a gift from your mother, and most of the time it lies unused (sorry ma!). You might dust it off just three times a year. What a waste, right? Now, imagine you can rent it to a friend; he won’t need to shell out for his own camera, and you get paid. That scenario describes the sharing economy in a nutshell: you borrow or rent assets owned by someone else.

Streetbank, a platform that allows neighbours to share everything from gardening tools to their gardening skills, does exactly this. “I borrowed rollerblades from my neighbour Karim,” says Streetbank user Rana, in Cairo, on the site. “Now I can rollerblade and Karim has become a friend.” The end result, according to Streetbank: “Friendlier neighbourhoods, money saved and less stuff wasted and ending up in landfills.” 

In the coming years, revolutions like the Internet of Things, the internetworking of connected devices, will make transactions like this even more exciting. Imagine owners with the ability to keep track of their leased objects on GPS. Or consumers getting smartphone notifications about rentable products they pass on the street based on one’s purchaser profile. Pretty groundbreaking  —  but the sharing economy is already exciting enough right now. Here’s how.

Room for Trust

You might not be familiar with Streetbank yet, although The Times named it as “one of 50 websites you can’t live without”. So let’s take another example of the sharing economy you have heard of: Airbnb. It certainly wasn’t the first accommodation-sharing site, but it is now among the most successful. Not that this was always the case.

As Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb, shared in a TED Talk, early investors into the business were wary. “We’ve all been taught as kids, strangers equal danger,” says Gebbia. At best, people will trust a small subset of people who are most like them in terms of age, ethnicity and geography. “The more different somebody is, the less we trust them,” he adds.

Unless, like Airbnb, you design a system where customers can connect with home-sharers, and both can share information about themselves. Once users get enough ratings, “high reputation beats high similarity”. In essence, “the right design can actually help us overcome one of our most deeply rooted biases.”

What’s going on here? It can be easy for us to focus on the high-tech algorithms and digitally enabled accessibility behind sharing platforms  —  it’s all so futuristic. But on a sociological level, the sharing economy at its best is replicating older, more open ways of consumption  —  and changing our behaviour for the better.

So says researcher Rachel Botsman (an academic and author who coined the term “collaborative consumption” in her book What’s Mine is Yours). “We now live in a global village where we can mimic the ties that used to happen face to face,” she says in her own TED Talk. “So what’s actually happening is that social networks and real-time technologies are taking us back. We’re bartering, trading, swapping.”

Researcher Rachel Botsman on the power of collective consumption

Be Your Own Boss

Apart from making us more trusting, the sharing economy is also revolutionising the way we work. The ability to easily sell your services for micro-jobs, ranging from minor errands and proofreading to driving, means that the sharing economy is growing more popular by the minute.

In a VUCA (volatile, unstable, complex and ambiguous  —  a military shorthand now often used in business) world still reeling from the global financial crisis of 2008, many are turning to these ‘side jobs’ to bolster their income. Professional services firm JP Morgan noted in a 2016 study that joining the sharing economy is a “far better option” for people to make money when they are low on cash than cutting spending or taking out a loan. In Singapore, simply being a part-time concierge shopper could earn you S$1,120 a month, according to local online news site Vulcan Post.

Better yet, the sharing economy can free workers from the traditional nine-to-five, cubicle-bound model of work. As Gouri Mirpuri (co-founder of The Hub, Singapore’s first co-working space for entrepreneurs) says, the flexibility of co-working spaces means that micro-entrepreneurs can set up easily and “plug and play”.

“You don’t have to worry about fitting [the space] out, while at the same time knowing you are not alone in this journey and there are others with you who you can turn to,” says Mirpuri.

Co-working Space Singapore

The Great Room Offices  —  a co-working space at One George Street in Singapore

From Car Parks to Parks

Some even say that the sharing economy is not just good for individuals  —  it’s also good for the planet. Singapore is leading the charge, sparking plans for the second-largest fleet of shared electric vehicles (EVs) in the world. By 2020, the country’s roads will welcome 1,000 EVs, which could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent compared to internal combustion engines.

Should the sharing economy truly take off on a global scale, such changes could even start to alter cities themselves. Fewer vehicles, for example, would mean a reduced need for parking lots, and perhaps more room for green parks. It could also mean fewer traffic jams, cleaner air and a reduction of costly highway projects  —  the sky’s the limit.

Sharing economy infographic

Click the above for a by-the-numbers look at where sharing economy is and where it’s going

Goodbye Loneliness, Hello New Friends

Of course, the sharing economy is still a long way from perfect. It has been dogged by criticism  —  detractors cite examples of ride-share apps that don’t properly test and screen their drivers; or home-share guests who trash their host’s home. Others argue that because of the ease of renting a car and becoming an ad hoc ride-share driver, some streets are actually becoming more congested, not less: in New York, transportation analysts found ride-share cars had reduced traffic speeds in Manhattan by eight percent.

As for the upsides to being a worker who sells their skills on sharing platforms, the earning potential is all well and good, notes a Newsweek article, but “The problem is, workers don’t know when they will earn it. A downturn in demand, or sudden change in consumer needs, or a personal injury or sickness, can make it impossible to pay the bills.”

What’s the big deal about co-working spaces, anyway?

But while the industry comes with its disadvantages, perhaps the most exciting thing about the sharing revolution is, as Botsman enthuses, moving from a ‘me’ culture to a ‘we’ culture, one that values community, communication and collaboration.

This may sound pedantic, but with experts slamming loneliness as an “epidemic” that is “as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” any chance to meet new people is not to be sniffed at. This is especially so in a world where 28 percent of South Koreans have been reported to say they have no meaningful social network, or 60 percent of Australians who say they often feel lonely.

As two Airbnb hosts note, “When we opened up to our neighbours about […] why we host on Airbnb, it was as though a barrier had been broken  —  they started sharing their personal issues with us.”

With all that in mind, it might just be time to put your DSLR camera up for rent. Sharing is caring, after all.

Disclaimer: All products and brands mentioned are unaffiliated with Temasek, with the exception of Airbnb.


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