At The Next Web in Amsterdam, Loic Le Meur spoke about the impact of a sharing economy, the realities of today's culture where "less is better", and where we favour sharing over owning. We are now, according to Le Meur, in a much more open society with different values where sharing prevails.
The values discussed seemed a little idealised, yet the tech industry is certainly leading the charge when it comes to the sharing economy, introducing platforms that enable us to connect with people in a new way, not only for community but where, fuelled by recession, we can access more stuff for a short period of time, and be less concerned with what we actually own.
When we look at the sharing economy, there is a clear leader here: Airbnb. Having grown rapidly pretty much out of nowhere (its fame propelled in part by a spot of bad PR), it now serves over 40,000 people per day. By February 2012, it was in 19,000 cities and had five million nights booked.
The appetite for something like Airbnb is clear. In an economic recession, we are prepared to cut back, but not cut out. Therefore, you still want the city break, but you're prepared to scale down on accommodation. Yet, we're seeing the sharing economy creeping into everyday life.
Take services such as Lyft or Zipcar, which Le Meur discussed as a totally new phenomenon, but importantly a social one. While the premise of Lyft is that you can get a lift from someone who might be travelling in your direction, this isn't about being a taxi service. You sit up front with the driver, you chat, and then you get out the car and go about your day.
And this is where it begins to get interesting because we can now see that the sharing economy isn't just about getting stuff in a new way, but it is a whole new approach to interacting with people and building your communities. Far from being just a sharing 'economy' you could even go so far as to say we're in the sharing revolution.
According to Le Meur, all of this stems from this new culture that is emerging today, where we celebrate community, crowd-funding, sharing and where "money is okay but greed is bad". Basically the complete opposite of this.
Are We Really Ready?
The idea of getting into a stranger's car and having a chat with them up front might sound a little strange, but in reality, it's no different to getting an actual taxi. At least with Lyft, it's going to be cheaper and probably a more enjoyable experience. Though for those who aren't all that up for a forced chat, the thought probably seems a little bit daunting, and that gets to the crux of the problem of the sharing economy.
Though Le Meur was adamant that this was the reality of today's emerging youth, there is another reality that we're not all in today's youth. When the sharing economy is trying to do something so huge and challenge the day-to-day, there are going to be some people who get it and some who don't. Invariably those that are left out tend to be on the peripheries of the tech scene - it's amazing how many people still haven't heard of Airbnb - when on the tech circuit, they're old hat by now.
While it's true that the emerging culture is one that might embrace sharing and are shaping the future right now, this will no doubt cause a chasm in behaviour. While today's young will invariably set the agenda of tomorrow, the sharing economy right now seems a little idealistic. At least when we expect it to cause changes in societal behaviour. That's not to say the potential isn't great, and that there are many already on board with it, but overall, the sharing economy is a little too far ahead of its time.
If you want to read up on the sharing economy, here's Le Meur's recommendation: What's Mine Is Yours - How Collaborative Consumption Is Changing The Way We Live.