Friends with Benefits: The Rise of the Sharing Economy

By Isobel Chiang



What is the Sharing Economy?Also known as collaborative consumption, the sharing economy is broadly based on the lending, borrowing, renting, swapping, bartering or co-owning of goods, spaces, time and talents. This includes, but is not limited to, bike/car sharing, forgoing expensive hotel rooms and renting people’s apartments and houses, crowdfunding, recycling/upcycling, or even sharing one’s talents and skills. Worth over $533 billion dollars, the sharing economy is not just an economic breakthrough, but a cultural one as well, as it is rewiring the way we consume, socialize, mobilize, and form relationships.Who shares? The demographics/psycho-graphics of sharers:

  • There are over 10 million sharers in Canada.

  • Sharers are young: nearly half of sharers are between 18-34 years old.

  • Sharers are viral: the sharing economy exists within a system of mobile peer-to-peer technologies, and relies largely on P2P recommendations.

  • Sharers are single: 73% of sharers are single

  • Sharers don’t have kids: 64% of sharers do not have children.

  • Sharers are affluent

Sharing is unequivocally part of the human condition. In fact, 80% of people say sharing makes them happy. However, the Sharing Economy extends beyond our altruistic need to share, for it relies on trust more than anything else. Or as Jason Tanz from Wired Magazine wrote, when we rent out our apartments on Airbnb or share a ride with a random person using Lyft, “we are entrusting complete strangers with our most valuable possessions, our personal experiences and our very lives. In the process, we are entering a new era of internet-enabled intimacy.”So my question is this, does the Sharing Economy function on the premise that people are “basically good”? Sharing is CaringWhether you like it or not, the Sharing Economy is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with. Over 3 million people have couch surfed; over 2.2 million bike sharing trips are taken each month; and over 2 million nights have been booked through Airbnb. In fact, Airbnb, a Silicon Valley startup spearheaded by two Rhode Island School of Design graduates, is now estimated to be worth over $10 billion and is growing at a rate of 45% month over month.In the end, collaborative consumption is disrupting the traditional resource based economy that is based primarily on ownership. Now, access trumps ownership. People don’t really want — and often can’t afford — to spend thousands of dollars on a car, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want access to one from time to time.Call it what you may— collective consumption, the Sharing Economy, hipster consumerism— this new type of business model is all anyone’s talking about. It’s even officially replaced “emoji” and “conscious uncoupling” as this year’s buzzword. Although it’s cost efficiency may not require a large economic investment from you, it does require your trust. So ask yourself, are you ready to take the leap? The Sharing Economy in ActionHere are some great examples of people and businesses taking part in the Sharing Economy:Collaborative Cities (3/12) - Detroit SOUP from Collaborative Cities on Vimeo.Collaborative Cities (5/12) - Not Far From The Tree from Collaborative Cities on Vimeo