There’s a classic scene that can sometimes pan out on tv, the movies, or even in your own kitchen. You’re baking, but realize you’ve made a grave mistake in not having bought any sugar at the store. Worry not! Your neighbor surely has some sugar. So you grab your measuring cup, walk down the hall, and you knock on your neighbors door. Problem solved.
Now, in 2013, a cup of sugar has become a car (or a babysitter, or a boat, or even a castle), and your neighbor, conveniently, is the internet. In this analogy, the hallway is the sharing economy which has been making noise for a few years now, and shows no signs of slowing down. But how–and more importantly why–did this grassroots, Burning Man-esque movement (if you can call billions of dollars a movement) come to be?
Hiring people to take care of your kids, dogs, and home has been around for a while. But finding things or services that are now common in the sharing marketplace used to be about flipping through the Yellow Pages for a plumber, asking a friend if you could borrow his van, or scouring a rideshare board. That type of searching can be tedious and often times can lead to compromise–like I need that car back in half an hour–or even substandard work–like “you were supposed to knock out that wall, not this one.” And at the end of the day, the number of acquaintances and recommended handymen are drops in the ocean.
The end of the 20th century gave a solution–albeit a debatable one–for the tediousness of the 10 pound phone book. Craigslist emerged and compiled anything the denizens of the 1995 internet could want: buying/selling of bikes, houses, pets; the exchange of services for cash or goods, and vice versa; and of course jobs and haikus. But the site can often times be cluttered, criminal, and at the end of the day, more tedious than a phone book.
Enter the sharing economy. With the advent of airbnb.com in 2008–and it’s subsequent meteoric rise–a slew of other goods, task, and ride sharing websites emerged as a more specific and regulated way to find the neighbor with the things you need. And over time, as some companies learned the hard way, trusting the micro-entrepreneurs being employed became more and more important.
What the sharing economy has done is expanded the neighborhood and redefined what it means to be a neighbor. There’s a limitation to your personal grasp that the sharing economy eliminates, but also puts under a microscope, ensuring that the people are trustworthy, that they are in fact real people, or that they’re actually delivering what they say they will.
Whether collaborative consumption is here because of a demand for the services, or people not wanting to deal with perfect strangers anymore, who knows. The thing we do know, however, is that it’s here to stay.