The Rise of ‘Collaborative Consumption’! A Brave New World?

Last night I had the pleasure of listening to Rachel Botsman, the co-author of a new book, released today, entitled ‘What’s mine is yours – how collaborative consumption is changing the way we live’.  Rachel is a snazzy, eloquent, entertaining and highly knowledgable speaker on the topic of all things collaborative.   She titles herself a ‘Social Innovator’ and has devoted the last few years to the idea of collaborative consumption and how technology is acting as the lynchpin for it.

For those of you who do not know what i’m talking about (and I confess I didn’t either until last night), collaborative consumption is all about how we can consume services rather than consuming ‘stuff’.  Some well known examples of this include ideas such as car clubs, where you buy access to a service, i.e. mobility when you need it, rather than buying a car (which apparently, on average sits idly outside your home for 23 hours a day); or the land-share scheme, where people with spare land who are not using it (unused gardens for e.g.) are partnering up with people who have a desire to ‘grow-their-own’ but have no access to land (some waiting lists for allotments can span 40 years!!).  Or even the more recent ‘Boris Bike’ scheme in london where people with a need to get from A to B quickly play for the temporary loan of a bike to get them there.

Another fascinating fact from Rachel is that 90% of the ‘stuff’ we own are used for just 1 day a month,  and a DIY tool such as a power drill is used for an average of 12 to 13 minutes in its entire lifetime!  How much better to have somewhere local where you could simply borrow, or rent, a power drill for those 13 minutes, instead of having one cluttering up your understairs cupboard.

Of course, eBay is one of the pioneers of a peer-to-peer redistribution scheme, although some think that eBay has now lost a lot of what made it such a revolutionary new approach to small scale trading in its early days.  But now, there are micro, and not so micro, websites dabbling in all sorts of peer-to-peer trading over the world .  The one that impressed me most is called AirBnB, a website where you can offer up a room in your house to paying guests.  There are rooms available all over the world, from castles in Scotland to whole islands in Fiji – all at a relatively low cost.  800,000 reservations have been made through AirBnb since it set up about 2 years ago.  Thats pretty amazing given it involves welcoming strangers into your home!

Of course, all of these new ways of doing business require a huge dollop of trust.  Trust in strangers at that.  But Rachel argues that this is what the Net is fostering through these sites, and that the 21st Century will be defined as the century of ‘collaborative consumption’ in the same way as the later half of the 20th has been defined in terms of ‘conspicuious consumption’.  We, as citizens will become defined by not what we consume, but what we contribute.

Its a lovely thought, and I for one hope that time will prove her right.  In the meantime, I will read her book, consume it, but then pass it on to others to do the same

Here is a TED video of Rachel doing her thing: 

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