Sharing is… a babysitting circle
When my wife was growing up, her parents – like many young parents of the day – needed to organize childcare.
They were far away from extended family and only had other young families around them. So they organised around shared needs – all the young families needed to have some respite from their kids once in a while.
So they formed a babysitting circle. There was no money involved – they simply took turns looking after each others’ children and if someone needed to take multiple turns, they basically gave an IOU and paid back in additional sitting when required.
Sharing is… esusu or a Voluntary Credit Union
Growing up in Yorubaland, there was a credit structure where members contributed a fixed amount into a pot and each month, one of the members would take the entire pot.
Example: if there are 12 friends and each contributes $1000 into the pot every month, then every month, one person could take $12,000. By taking the pot, they go to the end of the queue – they can’t take from the pot for another 11 months.
This structure is great for large purchases or one-off large financial needs. There is no interest or APR nonsense. Simply pooling and sharing of resources. It gave each member the strength of 12, once a year.
Sharing is…. a Lift Into Work
At my very first programming job, I caught a ride with my friend Paul Green.
He had a nice car, I didn’t have one – but more importantly he lived close enough to me and was happy to give me a ride to and from work.
Paul never asked for any payment, though I did buy him a tank of fuel every week or occasionally I paid for his lunch.
Sharing is… street Wi-Fi
When I lived in the UK, I once asked my neighbors if they would like to share WiFi. It made no sense to me that we should each pay £20 a month, when for a single payment of £40 we could buy a router and share only one ADSL subscription.
I was surprised when they declined. You cannot help some people.
Sharing is… oranges and lemons
Today I live in Spain. There are lots of orange and lemon trees and so much fruit is wasted because , often, it is more expensive to pick them and sell them than it is to leave them where they fall.
Most times when we go into my local butcher, we are offered bags of oranges and lemons – for free. Sometimes my other neighbors with orange trees will happily brings us bags of oranges. Free.
Sharing is good. It brings us together, reduces waste and helps us meet our shared needs in a very human way.
And then there are Uber, Lyft and AirBnb
The ‘sharing’ economy has been described as the economy where individuals with an asset – a car or housing – could rent out the asset when they weren’t using it.
How is this sharing? How is this not the same as the Hilton group of hotels renting out its rooms or the Yellow Cab company renting out its spare seats to commuters?
The only difference is that the owner of the asset is an individual, not a recognised business entity. This does not make it sharing. At least not the sharing that generates positive emotion and meeting shared needs.
Calling what Uber, Lyft and AirBnB do ‘sharing’ is fraud. It is a misappropriation of a word. It is a hijacking of a noble intent for the purposes of marketing what are essentially platforms to create small sized businesses, whose motivation is to make money.
Please don’t misunderstand me – I support Uber, Lyft and AirBnb, if only because they are disrupting the established order of things – but I disagree deeply with the use of the word ‘sharing’ to describe what they do. It is nothing more than marketing bullshit.
So I have a really small ask. Uber, Lyft , AirBnB and others in the same mould of creating platforms that enable mass supplier markets; the press that reports on these kind of businesses and everyone involved in them – please stop calling what you do ‘The Sharing Economy’.
Why This Matters
This matters because there is a real sharing economy and it is not driven by profit. Its participants are the kinds I have described above. They are individuals and businesses who are trading non-financial assets for their own mutual benefits and usually shared need – not profit.
It matters because a sharing economy focuses on shared needs and trust to work together to meet them. It takes deep trust and the skills and emotional investment to establish such trust to make a sharing economy successful. The participants of a sharing economy are not relying on a Terms of Service or the threat of litigation to police their trust based agreement.
It matters because admitting purely transactional, profit driven participants into this economy diminishes everyone else and reduces the power of the idea of sharing. It confers an undeserved legitimacy to such participants like Uber and AirBnb. It is putting the wolves dressed like sheep amongst the sheep.
Do you agree with how ‘sharing’ is being used? What have been your experiences of participating in the sharing economy?
I’d love to talk more about this. Consider leaving a comment below or tweeting @mhsutton.