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Community Property: The New Economy of Sharing

Innovation Times

Posted by JR Reagan on July 31, 2013

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Digital natives—the generation that’s never known a world without the Internet and mobile technologies—were also born into an era of global economic turmoil. These are just two of the forces that are shaping the behaviors surrounding ownership, developing an economy of collaborative consumption.

Collaborative consumption

The era of conspicuous consumption is long gone for most of us. A combination of the great recession, concerns over waste, an explosion of new technologies, and a generation raised on sharing brought on its demise.

Instead of owning things, more and more people (especially Digital Natives) are choosing to get the benefit of things without actually buying them.

It’s a concept called collaborative consumption, and it’s not exactly a new idea. Renting, bartering, trading, and sharing have been around for as long as people and societies have interacted.

First used in a 1978 paper1 about car sharing published in American Behavioral Scientist, the term “collaborative consumption” gained traction after Rachel Botsman’s 2010 presentation  on the subject, and the publication of What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption (2010), a book she coauthored with Roo Rogers. In 2011, TIME named collaborative consumption to its annual list of “10 Ideas That Will Change the World.

A useful life

Proponents of collaborative consumption provide scores of examples of why it makes sense. People who buy DVDs rarely watch them more than a few times, leaving libraries of disks gathering dust on shelves. With a few exceptions, our cars sit in driveways or garages until it’s time for the morning commute or a trip to the grocery store, yet they remain a major monthly expense. We purchase formal wear for a special occasion, and afterward, it hangs unused for years.

That power drill you just purchased as a Christmas gift? Its recipient will likely use it fewer than 20 minutes in the drill’s entire lifetime.

As Botsman explains in her TED talk, “What you need is the hole, not the drill.”

Share and share alike

We now have an online infrastructure that not only makes sharing possible, but incredibly easy. A proliferation of platforms connects people who need something with others who have that something, enabling collaborative consumption.

For finding and sharing stuff like watched DVDs, an online source for garage sales and swap meets, with 60 million monthly users in the U.S. alone purchasing and exchanging products and services. Freecycle boasts more than 9 million worldwide members who give and get stuff for free. More than a million members barter goods on

Is a new car out beyond your budget? If you live in an urban area, you can get all the benefits of car ownership without its high costs. Zipcar, with fleets in 20 U.S. metropolitan markets and worldwide, allows members to reserve cars for one hour to up to four days…gas and insurance included.

Then there are services like RelayRides, which connect owners of cars willing to rent them with people who need the use of one. RelayRides provides insurance coverage, strict screening standards, and 24-hour roadside assistance.

You can rent clothing, jewelry, and accessories for a special event, and go luxe without blowing a month’s wages. Two Harvard Business alums launched RentTheRunway to offer high-end designs at low-priced rentals.

And if your home is sitting empty for whatever reason, you can make some money through services like Airbnb, which matches people looking for accommodations with empty apartments and homes across the world.

You can even rent out a parking space in your driveway or garage, especially if it’s near a stadium or airport. Sign up at ParkAtMyHouse.

Natives rent, not own

Digital Natives are embracing these solutions. Whether arising from financial necessity, frugality, environmental awareness, or simply their generation’s familiarity with social networking and sharing, they’re not afraid to rent, borrow, or barter.

But in record numbers, they’re not becoming homeowners—at least not yet. Interestingly, owning a home doesn’t instill the same confidence as it once did. A 2011 survey by Pew Research Center showed that while in 1991, 49% of respondents strongly agreed that owning a home was the best long-term investment, just 37% felt that way in 2011.

Perhaps a Digital Native somewhere right now is coming up with an idea for housing that makes collaboration more hip.

1 Felson, Marcus and Joe L. Spaeth (1978), “Community Structure and Collaborative Consumption: A routine activity approach,” American Behavioral Scientist, 21 (March–April), 614–24.


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