The general theme of the book is that we’re shifting away from a society of hyper-consumption and equating personal self-worth with amount of material good accumulated, and instead to a world where our ability to access and exchange resources, develop a reputation, and build community and social capital takes precedence in how we choose to express who we are and what we choose to define us.
The authors give hundreds of examples of how people are finding new ways to share and exchange value - what they call “collaborative consumption” - using social lending platforms (Zopa, LendingClub, Prosper), open barter networks (ITEX,Bartercard), peer-to-peer coworking and currencies (Hub Culture), reuse networks (Freecycle), car sharing (ZipCar, GoGet), bike sharing (BIXI), swap trading (SwapTree), and peer to peer rentals for plots of land (Landshare, a room for the night (Airbnb), or any other item you could imagine (Zilok).
The list goes on, and the book is packed with some pretty interesting statistics (for instance, did you know that bike sharing is the fastest-growing form of transportation in the world, or that peer-to-peer social lending is set to grow to $5 billion by 2013?). All the examples are broken down in three main categories of collaborative consumption: product service systems, redistribution markets, and collaborative lifestyles - which highlights that there are numerous ways that consumption is being redefined.
I loved that in the closing chapters, they pull out “design thinking” as being at the center of collaborative consumption. (we’ve had thorough discussions on that topic here before) The idea is that it’s not just about creating more things anymore, but aboutthinking from a systems perspective and understanding how to find the balance in the relationship between business, sustainability, and consumption. Our planet can’t handle an endless supply of product creation, so the shift is underway for us to begin to design for participation, collaboration, and enabling new experiences. When this intention is present in design, it can lead to empowerment, changes in the thoughts and behaviors of large groups of people, and advances in conscious decision-making.
All in all, if you’re unaware of what’s happening in the peer-to-peer exchange space, this book will quickly bring you up to speed.
In closing, here are a few of my main takeaways:
- The Internet enables a new infrastructure for participation, reducing the transaction costs of matching the wants and needs of people and giving them the opportunity to coordinate. We’re finding this enables us to allocate resources and solve distribution problems more rapidly and effectively.
- By taking out the middlemen, people can begin to build trust with one other again. In the online space, this becomes transparent as reputation systems become more robust, revealing our interests, our social connections, and the trail of behaviors and actions across the Web.
- The “Tragedy of the Commons” is not a given. People are capable of sharing resources if given the tools to self-organize, coordinate, and monitor each other.
- New marketplaces are being built for people to build community, shape their personal identities, earn recognition, and participate in meaningful activity. They are finding new outlets for autonomy, control, freedom, and self-expression. While these activities strengthen social capital, they are also done for very practical reasons - to save time and/or money, to be more sustainable, or to gain access to better services.
- Aided by new communication infrastructures, we are learning to find the balance between the pursuit of one’s own self-interest and the greater good.