x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Trendspotter: share and share alike - the collaborative economy is coming

Alicia Silverstone's milk-sharing platform is an example of a rising phenomenon that could fundamentally reshape our lives: it's being called the collaborative economy.

The actress Alicia Silverstone has recently started a milk-sharing programme. Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images / AFP
The actress Alicia Silverstone has recently started a milk-sharing programme. Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images / AFP

The first few days of parenthood can be a strange, stressful, intense experience. For that reason, convention has it that family and friends rally around new parents and lend support: to cook dinner, do the shopping, sort out the laundry and so on.

But what if there was a way to extend the network of support far wider than that? What if new parents could rely on total strangers to help them in previously unthought-of ways?

Alicia Silverstone – yes, the attachment parenting advocate from Clueless – has launched an online breast-milk sharing programme. Kind Mama Milk Share (www.thekindlife.com/blog/post/kind-mama-milk-share) will allow new mothers to connect with one another to donate or receive breast milk. “If you have milk to share, post it!” writes Silverstone. “Think of all the babies we can help raise together!”

Growing up, we’re taught that sharing is important. Then we reach adulthood, and discover that we live in an ownership culture: one that encourages us to accumulate as much as we can – houses, cars, clothes and more – and insist on exclusive use of it.

But Silverstone’s milk-sharing platform is just one – admittedly offbeat – example of a rising phenomenon that could fundamentally reshape the nature of our societies and our lives: the collaborative economy.

At the heart of the collaborative economy is the idea that online connectivity makes it possible to share physical resources in new ways. Via the online space we can now make contact with other people nearby who have something we need; likewise, we can tell others around us what we have that we’re willing to share. In this way, entire ecosystems of sharing can arise.

The collaborative economy is at its most mature when it comes to cars. Via sites such as Liftshare (www.liftshare.com), motorists are connecting with others who are planning a car journey to a common destination and sharing a ride with them. Meanwhile, millions are using the peer-to-peer room booking site Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) to rent their spare rooms out to others who need them.

The collaborative economy is revolutionary for two reasons. First, because it raises the possibility of dramatically more efficient use of physical resources.

Think about cars. Under the ownership system, most cars sit unused on driveways and in workplace car parks for 80 per cent of the time. A fluid, trusted, smart online marketplace for cars can change all that. In town and need to nip over to a friend’s house and back? Just use your smartphone to identify the nearest car, use a bespoke code sent to your phone to unlock it and off you go.

Second, the existence of such a networked marketplace raises the question: what place is there left, then, for the concept of ownership? Isn’t it possible to imagine a future in which no one “owns” cars, but instead they are simply a shared resource that users jump in and out of at will? What is the point of owning a car if there are thousands of cars on the streets, waiting to be used?

Of course, the collaborative economy won’t do away with the idea of ownership altogether. But thanks to online connectivity, we’re heading towards a future in which ideas around ownership and use of physical resources will be transformed. Alicia Silverstone is far from clueless: she’s on to something.

David Mattin is the lead strategist at trendwatching.com

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