This month we were lucky enough to chat to the indelible Rachel Botsman. Rachel coined the phrase ‘collaborative consumption’ and wrote a hugely influential book about it, What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. If you’re new to the concept, collaborative consumption is a powerful cultural and economic force that’s re-inventing what we consume, and how we consume it. It’s a move away from hyper-consumption to a notion of sharing resources; as a result, we’re buying less stuff and making meaningful connections that are strengthening our communities in the process. We asked Rachel to tell us more.
Tell us about collaborative consumption.
It’s really about how technology is taking us back to old market behaviours – swapping, trading, bartering, exchanging, lending, sharing – but re-inventing them in ways that have never before been possible. It’s also about unlocking the ‘idling capacity’ of all the assets we have around us – products (cars, tools, frocks), spaces (a spare room), skills (Ikea assembly) – and using technology to redistribute that capacity to places where it’s needed. Think about the average car that sits parked for about 23 hours a day. It’s no wonder we’re embracing car-share schemes which give us access to a car when we need one, without the cost and hassle of owning one when we don’t.
Producing less and cutting waste are the obvious benefits. What are some others?
Collaborative consumption usually involves some sort of human connection and, interestingly, the No.1 benefit turns out to be social. That’s why it’s so powerful. The other plus is that it can give you a little extra money in your pocket. Stories from users of TaskRabbit (a US site that helps you outsource chores at low cost), show that they are not only using the extra income to pay off debts, but also to start new businesses or studies – so it’s about empowering people as well.
Is it being embraced in Sydney?
We’re a little behind the rest of the world – but I see that as an opportunity for entrepreneurs. A lot of clever bods are taking successful ideas from overseas and bringing them here. Taskbox has just launched in Sydney, based on the task-share model and DriveMyCar rentals (a peer-to-peer car-sharing model) is doing phenomenally well, with over 6,000 cars in the fleet. Co-working spaces are springing up all over the place and car share, clothes swaps, social lending platforms, online movies and sites like Gumtree are all booming.
Do you think there’s an incentive here for producers to make their products more durable?
Yes, absolutely. The motivation for product producers and designers used to be planned obsolescence. When you flip it to a service model, you shift to units of usage, and this continual cycle of usage promotes design for longevity and also how people can take a product and customise or personalise it.
What do you say to sceptics who think hyper-consumption is good for our economy, and jobs will suffer without it?
It’s like when they invented the printing press; they wondered what would happen to all the scribes. Whenever we’re at the start of a new invention there will be jobs that go away but also many that will be created. These are service industries and businesses are recognising that they can become more profitable by moving to a service-orientated model. You only have to look at video stores. While the traditional offering is at an all-time low, online businesses like Netflix are thriving.
What will be swapped/shared/rented in the future?
One of the fastest-growing spaces is virtual currencies. We’re also seeing a lot of ventures in the financial sector, like peer-to-peer lending where you can borrow and lend minus the banks, all the way to crowd funding and currency exchange.
The skill-sharing market place is growing, too. Slightly different from TaskRabbit, skill sharing creates a community marketplace to learn anything from anyone, from Japanese to crochet. Products will change, too. In Europe, for example, Electrolux has re-invented the laundromat. The washing machines on offer are far better than anything you could individually own; plus, when you go to these places, you’re likely to catch a great band – they’re designed to be complete experiences. So it’s not necessarily new things that will be shared, but more of a reinvention of the way we think about them.
If you want to know more about Rachel and collaborative consumption in general, check out her fascinating talk for TEDx Sydney. And read on for tales of collaborative consumption in Sydney, like this year’s Garage Sale Trail.