Collaborative consumption is dead

Excerpted from Neal Gorenflo:

“I want to talk about how money is ruining what started out as a transformative concept. (PandoDaily’s own Erin Griffith also recently took on this issue in her post, “Does money taint the sharing economy?”)

I’m not surprised that collaborative consumption is suffering growing pains. This is what happens when a flood of VC money focuses startups on growth at the expense of benefitting humanity. Some changes are symbolic yet telling, like Airbnb ditching their “travel like a human” tag line. Some are substantive, like Zipcar being absorbed by an old line car rental company, Avis. And some are anecdotal, like the fact that my Airbnb rentals of late have been much more impersonal than back in the day, which is totally understandable if you’re adding new properties at the fastest possible rate through every channel, including the fount of all mediocre customers, Google Adwords.

Herein lies the rub. As collaborative consumption goes mainstream, it risks losing the very thing that attracted people in the first place, the unique and even transformative social experiences made possible when you interact with helpful strangers. With this potential loss goes an important part of the positive impact, and a straight-up competitive advantage worthy of any Harvard MBA’s lust.

And what is this competitive advantage? Well, take my first experience renting a car on Getaround. When I met Sarah to pick up her car, DaffodillPickle, we struck up a conversation about aquaponics, she gave me an impromptu tour of her aquaponics setup on her balcony, and then sent me on my way with fresh strawberries she picked for me on the spot. That made my day. That’s never going to happen at Hertz because this kind of intimacy can never be scaled.

So it’s not so much that collaborative consumption is dead, it’s more that it risks dying as it gets absorbed by the “Borg” and its mindless minions of capitalism. Nothing new or special here, of course. As a recent Atlantic Cities feature concluded, collaborative consumption is just more efficient, which isn’t all bad. In a recent Economist cover story, Tim O’Reilly says this loss of revolutionary potential is inevitable. He’s wrong, though. It’s only inevitable if a company takes VC money. It’s really just a decision.

This is where the real sharing economy comes in. It is more than just VC-backed Internet startups. It’s a tectonic shift in how the economy works. As society changes from a top-down factory model of organization to a peer-to-peer network model, how we produce, consume, and interact will be radically transformed. At its simplest, the sharing economy is the decentralization of economic power brought on by new technology, new and revived business models, and massive social change. It’s made up of thousands of innovations, some for profit, some nonprofit, and some that thrive in the commons.

If we can avert our collective gaze from our latest technology gadgets for a second, we might be able to see the real sharing economy, the one driven by values and tested by time.”

1 Comment Collaborative consumption is dead

  1. AvatarMatthew Slater

    Really helpful article. If you click through Neal goes on to talk more about alternative forms of finance. The way finance works now, every enterprise has to grow as fast and as far as it can, which means value-driven enterprises are subsumed by the values of capital.

    When sharing start-ups allow themselves to be bought out or steered by big finance, then they are not serving humanity at all, they are merely planting seeds in service of the Reaper.

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