Earlier this month our car broke down unexpectedly. My husband was driving to a friend's house in the slushy, post-snowstorm streets when all of a sudden the car would no longer go. When he called to describe what happened, my first reaction was the completely nontechnical assumption that "it just pulled a muscle of some sorts" and would need to get something tightened or replaced. We figured that we would bring it to the mechanic to get fixed and be on our way driving the following weekend.
But we were wrong. The mechanic called a couple days later to give the sad news: our car had died and could not be revived. We responded to the news like Matt Damon in Contagion did when the doctor apologetically told him that his wife was gone: "Okay, so when can I see her?" Damon nervously asked the doctor in the hospital hallway, eager to talk to his wife. The doctor more bluntly reaffirmed the truth: "Your wife is dead." It was unclear exactly what caused our car to die, but we knew one thing for sure: we would need to find a new mode of transportation.
Our first plan of action was to research and plan to buy a new car. Our old car was an inexpensive yet reliable mode of transportation for running errands, taking weekend trips, and getting around the city. We figured we would buy a similar type of car, only with two new stipulations: it had to be safe and it had to have an automatic transmission. While I know how to drive a manual car, I have strongly preferred not to since I mysteriously (and dangerously) shifted from third to first gear in the middle of oncoming traffic.
After sifting through the complicated how-tos of how to buy a used car without it being a lemon, I stopped to ask a question that didn't exist even a few years ago:
Why do we need to buy a new car when we can access cars through ZipCar, Uber, and other methods?
My husband was skeptical at first, wondering whether it would be economically viable for our driving needs compared to the cost-per-use of buying an affordable used car. But after researching and comparing the costs for car sharing versus car owning, we determined that car sharing may actually be the cheaper, better option. We decided to try car sharing through companies like ZipCar, Uber, RelayRides, Lyft, and others for the next three months, and then reassess whether this new lifestyle worked for us.
The question I asked is bigger than the experiment my husband and I are conducting for one segment of our lives: transportation by car. It's essentially the key question of the collaborative consumption movement, also known as the sharing economy or the peer economy.
The traditional questions were: "Where can I buy _____? Who can I buy ____ from?" You can buy a car from the car dealer. You can buy a hotel room from the hotel. You can buy clothes from the department store.
The new question is: "Why buy new ______ when I can get it from ______ for ______?" You can fill in the blanks with almost anything. Why buy a new car when I can rent a car from a neighbor through RelayRides for less money and fewer carbon emissions? Why buy a hotel room when I can get a place to stay from AirBnB for way cheaper and have a more delightful, local experience? Why buy new clothing when I can get it from Poshmark, thredUP, or Tradesy for less money and environmental impact?
The key premise of the collaborative consumption or sharing economy is that access is more valuable than ownership. While this may not seem like such a radical concept at first glance, this new model of consumption has the potential to send huge waves throughout society. In Fast Company, economist Umair Haque reports that the collaborative economy "has the potential to be lethally disruptive." After all, what happens if consumers like me begin consuming less and sharing more? Haque answers: "The effect on margins of traditional corporations is going to be disproportionately greater, which means certain industries have to rewire themselves or prepare to sink into the quicksand of the past."
The sharing economy disrupts the traditional consumption-based system, turning everyday consumers into producers, sharers, or both.
Neal Gordenflo, the founder of Shareable, a nonprofit hub for individuals and communities to learn about and foster peer-to-peer sharing, explains it this way: "Business has spent centuries making buying really easy. We're just at the beginning of making sharing easy." While it may take a bit more planning and organization, I am confident that the sharing economy will reduce costs (both financial and environmental) and delight participants in new ways.
How I Participate in the Sharing Economy
Below are a few ways that I have or plan to participate in the sharing economy in 5 categories: transportation, fashion and accessories, accommodations/travel, errands/tasks, and home products.
2. FASHION & ACCESSORIES
5. HOME PRODUCTS
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