Collaborative consumption and lifestyles – a rapidly emerging societal trend

What do car-sharing, bike-sharing, community supported agriculture, Facebook, youtube, Flickr, co-housing, co-working, swap trading, land sharing, social lending and couch surfing have in common?

Well according to Rachael Botsman and Roo Rogers, authors of the book "Whats mine is Yours", these trends are part of an emerging social trend that they call "collaborative consumption". Collaborative consumption "puts a system in place where people can share resources without forfeiting cherished personal freedoms or sacrificing their lifestyle."

Collaborative Consumption cover shot

I was intrigued in this book as I thought it could further explain the motivations and drivers behind why people decide to collaborate, in particular, when it comes to participating in investment syndicates, joint venture projects, co-living and co-housing.

Below are my key learnings and take-outs...

Botsman and Rogers write about an "emerging socio-economic groundswell" driven by the fact people are increasingly searching for more simplicity, transparency and participation in their lives. As this trend grows people are moving beyond the old "stigmas, associations and fears" that coming together and sharing via collectives or cooperatives will "jeopardise (their) cherished personal freedoms of individuality, privacy and autonomy".

This trend is allowing old concepts like cooperatives and collectives to be "refreshed and reinvented into valuable forms of collaboration and community."

At the centre of this movement is:

  • the use of the internet and the convergence of social networks
  • a renewed belief in the importance of community
  • pressing environmental concerns
  • cost consciousness

These factors "are moving us away from the old top-heavy, centralised and controlled forms of consumerism toward one of sharing, aggregation, openess and cooperation".

The authors organise hundreds of examples of collaborative consumption into three systems:

  1. product service systems - where you pay for the benefit of a product (what it does for you) without the need to own the product outright
  2. redistribution markets - where  used or pre-owned goods are redistributed from where they are not needed to somewhere or someone where they are
  3. collaborative lifestyles - where people of similar interests band together to share and exchange less tangible assets such as time, space, skills and money

Some of the most interesting things I picked up from this book were:

  • that sharing is innate. As "children we are sociable and cooperative by nature. But by the age of three, children start to adhere to "social norms" shaped by culture. At this stage, concerns of how others in a group will judge them can encourage or discourage collaboration."
  • we are "relearning how to create value out of shared and open resources in ways that balance personal self-interest with the good of the larger community."
  • that "communities can help people become more than they are as individuals. In other words, we benefit from a 'collaborative individualism'".
  • some "collaborative consumers are forward thinking and socially minded optimists, but others are individuals motivated by a practical urgency to find new and better way of doing things.
  • that practical urgency may be to save money or time, access a better service, be more sustainable or allow closer relationships with people rather than brands
  • there are certain specific motivations for participating in collaborative consumption: cost savings, coming together, convenience and being more socially conscious and sustainable.
  • that "every single person who joins or uses collaborative consumption creates value for another person, even if this was not the intention."
  • collaborative consumption can help users enjoy products or services without the expense, maintenance hassle, and social isolation of individual ownership.

Collaborative Lifestyles

Of most interest to me personally in the book was this concept of collaborative lifestyles. The chapter on this topic introduced me to some new concepts like social lending (check out Zopa). However, of most interest to me were the following insights:

  • in 2008 Stephanie Smith set out to set up a co-housing/cooperative project in a place called Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles. She wanted to find out what stops people from sharing and living co-operatively. What she found was that the biggest "challenge the residents experienced was coordination." Coordination was the barrier that "has historically prevented most people from attempting to 'share nicely' as the perceived effort and energy needed to make it work negate the value in return."
  • it is "anchors of commonality (that) give people permission to collaborate, form new social bonds, and break down the emotional barriers and stigmas we often have around sharing and asking for help."
  • while "social capital is created across all forms of collaborative consumption, it is heightened when we share our nonproduct needs (skills, time, space) to build and strengthen relationships with family, neighbours, friends, coworkers and total strangers.
  • to participate "in collaborative lifestyles, all you need to do is 're-orient your personal compass a little bit'" - Bill McKibben, Deep Economy
  • collaborative lifestyles require you to "shed a certain amount of your hyper-individualism and replace it with a certain amount of neighbourliness...if we let go a little bit of our individualism, we recover something we have been missing."

To borrow a what I think is a perfect summary from Publishers Weekly, "part cultural critique and part practical guide to the emerging collaborative consumption market, this book provides a wealth of information for those looking to redefine their relationships with both the things they use and the communities they live in." Well worth a read...

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