“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had”, Acts Chapter 4”.
It’s cooler to borrow in the sharing economy!
Technology always has the effect of making us more isolated and yet more connected. We spend more hours each day staring at a soulless laptop or phone screen, and yet each connected individual is in touch with more people than at any other time in history. As former Archbishop Williams said “society is increasingly fragmenting and connecting at the same time”.
One impact of this is it has shifted the way we access services and goods. I don’t just mean shopping online. We are actually sharing goods – the so called “sharing economy” – in new and counter-cultural ways. People are increasingly choosing to not make purchases but simply use someone else’s stuff. Many of us have seen the racks of bicycles in London or Barcelona. No need to buy a bike any more, just borrow one for an hour. If it was just bicycles that wouldn’t be anything remarkable but it goes deeper than that.
Share someone’s couch — “Book a whole home for less than the price of a hotel room”
Today you can rent part of someone’s house just for a night. I easily found a couch in New York City that someone is renting out in their front room for £22 per night. Try www.airbnb.com. This particular couch had been highly rated by 53 individuals and came with Wi-Fi! The landlord still lives there, they just don’t use the couch in the front room, and they want to make some cash.
But you can also share a night on a sailing yacht or in a private castle — not for £22 but it is just as easy. Check out www.homeaway.com. Airbnb in particular is attracting users who wouldn’t have dreamed of renting out their closet or couch. Needless to say the value of these internet companies has doubled many times since they were launched.
Renting out a spare room in your house isn’t anything new, but the process that allows you to rent just a tiny space, the scale of so many start-ups, the mounting numbers of users, and the user-friendly apps that drive these purchases –this is all very new.
Share someone’s car – “Tap a button – get picked up in minutes”
Our new “connectedness” is also driving the renting of spare seats on car journeys. www.Blablacar.com, www.lyft.com and the best known www.uber.com all offer checked drivers you can share rides with via a Smartphone app. These are all private individuals’ cars not “cabbies”. If you want to offer your car as a taxi, straightforward background checks take place and then you can offer rides for a fee.
With both home and car sharing there has been a backlash of litigation. Traditional taxi firms claim that Uber taxis are not being properly licenced. Other regulatory authorities argue that these companies should be taxed like traditional businesses such as hotels and taxi-firms. So far however the sharing businesses are thriving.
Share someone’s stuff and errr …share someone
It doesn’t stop there. People are turning idle tools such as a lawnmower or electric drill that is not being used this week into a rentable asset. And TaskRabbit is a marketplace where cash-rich / time-poor people can “borrow” other local people to provide the services of a handyman / dog walker / flat pack assembler. These are not professionals – these are your neighbours. Does this sound risky? No more than using the old telephone directory to find a tradesman. And other new companies such as TrustCloud enable purchasers to check out the credentials and the safety record of people they are renting from.
What’s it all about?
Largely driven by costs and the recent recession, our sharing economy links new technology and a willingness to share to enable people with anything to lend to be matched with anyone willing to pay. But it is also driven by people wanting a more authentic, less touristy experience – maybe a backlash to the isolating effects technology has had upon us.
Returning to the New Testament passage quoted at the start, at that time there was an emerging Christian culture of “all believers having everything in common” (although we don’t often see this in Christian communities today). Of course the motivation then was neither technology nor money, it was the common experience of being brought into a new adopted family with Christ at the head. However the counter cultural nature of what we are seeing today especially in the rise of mutual trust I think is just as remarkable as it must have appeared in the first century AD.
Footnote on “micro purchases”
No space to discuss this in the main article but a closely related new trend in shopping is that we are buying goods in smaller and smaller quantities. Whereas we used to purchase an album or CD we now buy a single track. Whereas we used to buy software programs, word processors etc, we now buy a single App; and rather than buying a phone contract my company offers technology to allow people to have the internet on their phone for just an hour. Interestingly this trend is new to us in the developed world but it has always been this way in the developing world. If you want to buy a cigarette in many developing countries, you buy one. If you need one battery, you buy just one battery, the rest of the pack remains on the shelf.