Sharing is Trending

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June 14, 2013 by Tess Riley

I’m chuffed to say that I’ve started blogging for Huffington Post. I had my first blog up this week, a wee comment piece about the need to build sharing into our culture as well as our economy if we’re going to live in a truly collaborative way.

I’ve posted the article below – as ever, all comments, thoughts and ideas for future Huff Post posts welcome!

Sharing is Trending

Anyone vaguely familiar with social media sites such as Facebook will know that the word ‘share’ has come to mean a button we press when we want to prove to our 900 or so friends (sorry, ‘friends’) that we have a great social life or excellent music taste.

The good news is that sharing means a great deal more and has been undergoing something of a renaissance of late. This isn’t just a hearkening back to the good old days when, aged ten, you would receive plastic bags full of mud-stained hand-me-downs every time you went to visit Auntie Mabel. No, this is twenty-first century sharing where goods, skills and ideas can be exchanged on a scale never before possible.

So far, mainstream coverage of this mass sharing, also known as collaborative consumption, has tended to focus on the economic impacts of sharing, namely the rise of the sharing economy. This is significant because it points to a growing recognition that large-scale sharing is set to disrupt the very foundations of neoliberal capitalism, namely growth. Companies whose success is predicated on people’s desire for individual ownership of goods are starting to wake up to the fact that radically new business models built around peer-to-peer marketplaces are emerging. Fast.

Less discussed have been the cultural and social changes associated with the ability to share easily, at a significant scale and often beyond previous limitations, such as geography. Whereas pre-used goods were traditionally seen as the less favoured option in the face of their brand new, individually-owned counterparts, now pre-used has become pre-loved and what was once a hand-me-down is now up-cycled. You know something has become à la mode when it gathers its own set of buzz words quicker than you can say swish.

Both for- and not-for-profit online organisations are driving this sharing trend, including Airbnb, Covoiturage, Open Shed and OuiShare to name just a few. In the case of UK-based organisation Streetbank, which enables people to share and give away anything with neighbours via its free web platform, the ultimate goal is to establish an international sharing movement:

Streetbank is an efficient, hyperlocal distributor of ‘stuff’, helping reduce landfill and save people money”, says Streetbank founder, Sam Stephens. “At its heart is a desire to build a worldwide network of sharing communities in order to foster a spirit of generosity.”

As online collaborative consumption organisations continue to innovate, so the fashion for shared and pre-loved goods continues to grow, something forward-thinking high street retailers are likewise tapping into. Charity shops, for example, which once represented functionality, necessity and affordability without any associated glamour, now use the very fact that things are second-hand – ‘unique’, ‘vintage’, ‘sustainable’ – as a selling-point, as Oxfam Boutiques, a more recent sub-division of the Oxfam charity shop network, demonstrate.

Belgium’s Kringwinkels are another case in point. The organisation positions itself as a network of shops which puts environmental and social concerns at its centre. The focus of the messaging is not that items sold are second-hand but that each government-backed shop is unique and offers something for everyone: “quality at an affordable price. Originality is not expensive!”, celebrates the Kringwinkels website.

So, friends, Romans and lexicographers the world over, take note: the true definition of sharing is not the act of reposting Justin Bieber videos on your e-walls, however socially necessary that may be. As the sharing economy continues to grow and the reuse sector diversifies and strengthens, a significant cultural shift is beginning to take place that sees people recognise the value in shared access to goods that goes beyond the perceived need for something to be new.

In the process, greater emphasis is placed on the importance of trust and community. This is the key to collaborative consumption becoming truly mainstream; this is more connection than an internet cable will ever provide.

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8 thoughts on “Sharing is Trending

  1. Tomcat says:

    Really great, provocative piece Tess (and congrats on your new Huffington Post blog!).

    On the subject of sharing economics (er..”shareconomics”…no, better not…) the videogame community exploded a few weeks ago when Microsoft announced that games for their up-coming console (XboxOne) have to undergo a mandatory install and online registration procedure, which permanently links a game to one, individual console. Not only does this make it impossible for friends and family to share games (which is, in itself, a massively important thing for the gaming community), it also means that games cannot be sold second-hand, as a second hand buyer won’t be able to run the games on her console (unless, it turns out, they subsequently pay microsoft again to access the game). The used games market is the mainstay of so many independent (& highstreet) games/electronics stores, that this policy can only be seen as a complete disaster.

    Microsoft have, of course, published a load of spiel about how this new process “protects developers”, but their real agenda is, most likely, a greed-driven attempt to control the market and ensure that all games are bought new, from them and them only.

    I’m getting ranty and polemical now, sorry… but my over-laboured point being: that Microsoft’s new restrictions on used games constitutes an outright attack on the notions of not just the second-hand market, but the concept of sharing and digital rights; as well as a kinda gross attempt to control how individual consumers choose to use the things they buy.
    Thankfully their policies haven’t been at all well-received by the community, and other major developers have promised that they won’t be following suit..

    Maybe fodder for a future Huffpost blog? Not sure.
    Either way – am very much looking forward to your future articles.
    Tom.

    • Tess Riley says:

      Thanks Tom, that’s super interesting and you put it perfectly! I’ve been thinking along the same lines with music – it’s mad so many people buy CDs then never listen to them after the first couple of plays (the stat is something horrendous like 80% plus albums get played an average of 1.5 times before being chucked away) – giving the CDs to someone else is ok (at the moment) yet lending them isn’t. Policies that protect developers and musicians I am down with but I agree that I’m not sure that this is the main driver for the kind of restrictions you mention here.

      What would be the impact of getting rid of physical objects altogether and doing everything on downloads – games as well as music…?

      Lots to ponder over – let’s discuss more 🙂

      • Tomcat says:

        Yeah, I definitely think that the future of these things will be a digital-only one (those CD stats you cite are truly shocking!), but when it comes to gaming, I don’t think this is going to happen any time soon. The problem with games, at the moment, is that internet speeds just aren’t globally consistent enough to support digital-only gaming platforms. The average Playstation 3 game, for example, is a massive 40GB (even bigger if it’s one of the so-called “Triple A” titles: you know, the mega best-selling games that have cinematic quality graphics developed by thousands of people with enormous budgets, etc.), and this is set to increase to an average of 60-80GB with the next console generation (that’s the entire capacity of a BluRay disc). These are file sizes that would take many, many hours, if not days, to download with current internet speeds (and that’s if the connection isn’t interrupted half-way through), and so, for many markets the world over, digital-only gaming isn’t really viable at the moment.

        I’m positive that digital-only *is* going to happen – but, as things stand, internet speeds aren’t keeping up with the ever-increasing file sizes of games. Likewise, to support a digital-only market, consoles would have to be shipped with absolutely enormous hard drives (probably several TB), to support players who buy lots and lots of games. Interesting stuff though. Lots of change happening at the moment, but there are massive differences in connection speeds from one country to the next, and gaming is popular all over the world. If a developer were to disregard physical objects tomorrow, they’d be shutting themselves out of some pretty big markets.

        And I absolutely support policies that protect developers and musicians, but, like you, I’m not sure restricting consumer rights and attempting to seize control of the second hand market via aggressive digital strategies is the best way to go about it. Surely it’s more likely to alienate potential customers, than win them over?

        I think what Microsoft are doing re: sharing and second-hand is a big mistake. I guess it’s just a matter of time before we find out whether they’ve shot themselves in the foot, or in the head.
        Tom.

      • Tess Riley says:

        I see – that makes sense. You can tell I know zilch about the gaming world… 🙂

        Have you read this – A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace: https://projects.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html

  2. Tomcat says:

    That’s amazing – I hadn’t read it (and I was very surprised when I saw the date at the end. 96! Someone was waaay a head of their time). Many thanks for the link.

    You might find this interesting. It’s a lecture given by one of my favourite writers, China Mieville (if you’ve not read ‘The City and the City’, you really must!). It’s ostensibly about the future of the novel, but mostly he speaks about digital rights, how artists should deal with piracy and downloads, and how the creative industries should respond to the digital age. I’m not sure what your personal politics are (China Mieville is on the far left), so you might not agree with all of it (I found most of it very convincing), but it’s interesting stuff nonetheless, and definitely worth a listen:

    • Tess Riley says:

      Ah brill – the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference – my ma does the PR for that and proud of her I am… 🙂 Am really looking forward to watching that, thank you. And yes, read ‘The City and The City’ I must. Thank you, duly added to my list!

  3. Tess, this is a very interesting article. So many different concepts are being bundled together at the moment – collaborative consumption, sharing economy, online and offline community building….this article starts to unpick them, which is very useful. Thanks for stopping by my own blog, and I’m looking forward to keeping our dialogue going.

    • Tess Riley says:

      Ah thanks Helen, that’s really kind and yes, I think that as peer-to-peer activities become more mainstream, we’ll see a move towards clearer definitions of what we’re all up to. I signed up to follow your blog earlier so am looking forward to reading future posts 🙂

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