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May 3, 2014

The Sharing Economy: Power in Community. ~ Melissa Horton

Richard Leeming; Sharing

What if we lived in a world where bartering for goods and services was standard, and the sharing is caring mentality prevailed over corporate big business theory and practice?

Surprise! The hopes of a community-based system of commerce has arrived—actually, it has been right in front of our faces for some time now. And it has a name.

The sharing economy—it has a nice ring to it, right?. Until two days ago, I was grossly unaware of what it meant. I’ve utilized its power, multiple times through multiple channels for multiple reasons, but hadn’t connected those mindful dots. I had no idea it was a “thing” nor did I realize the true power behind it.

As children, we are taught that sharing is, above all else, the foundation of our lives. Siblings are taught to share their toys, despite how much they may not want to; students are encouraged to share their crayons with other students. Why? The clear path to community is “giving up” something we “own” to another human being for their benefit, not ours.

But we all benefit. Sharing at its core feels good. The ability to let go of something we perceive has value for the sheer purpose of putting a smile on someone else’s face feels good.

But then the transition into our teen years starts, where there is an oppressive pressure on meeting cultural standards directly related to our future successes. How will we be deemed successful contributing members of society? A career, a house, a family, a cute dog—success is diluted down to a monetary value of the unimportant stuff we are able to accumulate. Money. It all comes down to money.

Higher education is a priority, as it is seemingly the means to making a monetary way for ourselves in this big scary corporate-focused and corporate-driven world. We pick an education path that reflects our need for monetary gain, and not necessarily what feeds our inherent passions. We have to, because life takes capital.

Well, that’s what we’ve been lead to believe. Checkbook power equals perceived societal power which then equals eternal happiness. Right?

As someone who has desperately sought after financial success as defined by our materialistic culture—as a financial planner, no less—the struggle was real based on that one simple mis-truth.

Money is necessary, yes. Paying the sometimes outlandish price tag that big business places on “things” is not.

Why do we pay $1.50 – $2.00 for a loaf of bread? Because the grocery store says we must in order to get bread. Why do we pay $50 for cab fare to the airport, and then $500 to travel from point A to point B? Because the taxi cab association and the airlines say we must.

In order to get what we want, we pay what someone else says we should.

That’s the standard—except it isn’t. Enter the sharing economy, stage left.

After I adopted my pup in the fall of last year, I was having a hard time figuring out where he was going to stay or who would be willing to watch him during a short business trip I had to take. I, as most of us do, hopped on the magical interwebs in an effort to find a boarding service that had great reviews, was cost efficient (cheap), and just happened to be right around the corner from my apartment. I was sure I would be able to find a business willing and able to meet my needs as a somewhat desperate and time-crunched consumer. What else is the internet for?

To my dismay, no boarding facilities were accepting pups without a thorough evaluation, a pricey application fee, and at least two weeks of lead time to start the process. As much as I appreciated the care these facilities would have provided to my then 5 month old little guy, I was annoyed that the costly endeavor wasn’t an option in a pinch. And I was in a pinch. Call it poor planning. That’s fine. But what I found as a work around was a life saver—and it started a dive into the world of sharing in an oddly grown up way.

The site boasted a home for my pup, not a boarding facility, with ’round the clock care from a dedicated human being, either in my home or in theirs. I chose theirs. After a brief phone call with the host, I felt comfortable with leaving my pooch for a long weekend with her, her husband, and their two-year-old shih tzu. I dropped him off two days later, crying as I pulled out of their driveway on my way to the airport, but I knew he would be cared for in the best way. Even though I didn’t know I was participating, the sharing economy ideal worked in my favor.

The hosts had an asset to share—their home, as well as their experience in caring for dogs—and I had a need. For a small chunk of change, they were able to utilize those assets to help a busy entrepreneur in a pinch, unlike the big business I encountered online. Although a financial transaction was completed—services received for a price—I felt less frustrated with forking over a few hundred bucks to a business I knew little about by forking it over to an individual. Another human, willing to give up something—in this case, time and space—for something in return.

money billsCold hard cash.

 

Although this was months ago, and I have used the same host a number of times since then, the concept of the sharing economy theory was less than a pressing thought for me. And then, in an odd slap in the face from the all-knowing Universe, I was forced to understand what the sharing economy was, and the implications it has for us all. My freelance writing gig afforded me the ability to dive in to what the sharing economy actually meant, and how it serves the greater good. Connect the mindful dots with me, won’t you?

A peer to peer, human to human exchange of goods or services in return for a) financial gain (albeit less than a corporate price tag) or b) bartered goods or services. The benefit, aside from spending less to support big, overbearing business?

The reduction of waste—when assets are used for a multitude of purposes, our great big world benefits. Instead of spending a pretty penny on a hotel room in the city for a business trip, I could effectively get a more cozy place to stay, with a potentially better view, for a third of the cost by using a service like Airbnb. Hosts offer up their homes or apartments for short-term rentals to those seeking a place to stay. Instead of supporting the wasteful hotel industry at large—if you take into account the resources that are inefficiently used to keep that type of establishment running—an individual maybe in need of a few extra dollars for the month is helped simply by sharing his or her space with a stranger.

The same can be done for car services, pet boarding, food, clothing—the possibilities are endless. And these peer to peer community-based platforms are popping up at an astonishing rate.

Need tools? You’ve got it. Need food? You’ve definitely got it. Need some help around the house? You’ve got it. Just ask your neighbor, through an app via the web. The wave of the future? I’d dare say it is the wave of now, bred from necessity and fueled by the mindful community actively seeking a better way of doing business.

So, how is it evident that the sharing economy is indeed a “thing”? Unfortunately, the noise being made by local government backed by corporate industry leaders is loud enough to speak clearly to the success of this better business ideal. A number of law suits have been filed, specifically in the short-term rental market and the taxi/ride-share industry, that are an attempt to thwart the efforts of sharing economics in practice—with cease and desist orders flooding the market place in an effort to buy time to establish regulatory controls. Everyone wants a piece of the financial pie, and because current regulation is based on old models and even older technology, the battles will rage on for an undetermined amount of time.

So what can we do?

Change is only as effective as those who support it, and my guess is that a number of consumers are leaning more toward utilizing community-based platforms solely in an attempt to save a buck or two. In all honesty, that does not bother me as much as it probably should. My challenge, however, is to view these platforms at a deeper level, understanding the longer term implications for the world in which we live, above and beyond the almighty dollar.

Reduction of waste is a real need; a return to community focused behavior is a real need.

To be able to see these truths after we have forgotten how much we saved in dollars and cents is more powerful, and more sustainable, and ultimately, more effective in promoting change. Right? Right.

Need some ideas on how to participate in the sharing economy? Check out this short video to see how giving in this capacity can truly effect change.

 

Share. Understand. Share again. Enjoy.

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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Richard Leeming, Flickr Creative Commons/Nina Matthews, Flickr Creative Commons, Pixoto

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Melissa Horton

Melissa Horton was raised in a sleepy Midwest town, and now thrives in the Washington, D.C. Metro area.  A lover of music and an avid writer, first, she has been a financial literacy professional for her entire adult life, starting her own financial planning firm in 2012. She prides herself on helping others envision and ultimately achieve their goals for the future, while keeping a mindful eye on her own passions and voice. In her down time, she thoroughly enjoys listening to tunes, journaling, and spending time with her family and closest friends.  She is committed to giving back to her community, feeding her philanthropic soul by volunteering for non-profits focused on education reform nationwide.  Above all else, she is a proponent for personal growth, both within herself and encouraging others to join the ride. Visit Melissa’s blog or Facebook page.