Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Socialist worlds

Interesting column by Tina Rosenberg in the Times today called "It's Not Just Nice to Share, It's the Future." It's stimulated by discussions around the bikeshare which has finally arrived in New York, and discusses what people are calling "collaborative consumption" - a step up from, or beyond, an older category known as collective consumption.

This is not exactly a fresh idea. In some fields, it’s been around for millenniums — in the hospitality industry, for example. You can’t own a house in all the places you need to travel to, so you rent a bed. Before World War II, the shared economy was most of the economy. “It’s only the last 75 years or so in the United States where the industrial revolution, modern mechanization and access to credit have allowed us to buy things for ourselves instead of checking with our neighbors, friends and family first,” wrote Adam Werbach, the co-founder of the sharing platform Yerdle.

Rosenberg mentions a bunch of reasons why people might embrace collaborative consumption over private ownership.

Why is collaborative consumption exploding now?
— The green zeitgeist. For some people, it’s still desirable to own a lot of stuff that sits idle 95 percent of the time. But more and more people are coming to define this as waste....
— Recession. Sharing saves money....
— Increased longing for community. The same desire that is luring people out of traditional suburbs into walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods drives collaborative consumption....
— The march of technology. Every business benefits from better information technology, but sharing businesses benefit more than others....
— Mobile technology and social networking.

This is persuasive as far as it goes, but it doesn't name my main reason for being an instinctive collaborative consumer: our participation in the lives of objects. I think objects get lonely, bored and frustrated under exclusive ownership. Think of a novel, unlikely to be reread by a single owner. But this goes for other things, too, synchronically and diachronically as well. Things don't want to sit idle in a safe, a never-used music room, garage, etc. They want to move, circulate, interact! Indeed, these movements, circulations and interactions are one of the ways human sociability is stitched together. If I wanted to grind one of my axes I'd say that misunderstanding property as in principle or by default private and exclusive makes us misunderstand not only the social needs of objects, but also of human beings....

(This might be worth folding into my thoughts on "resources," huh!)

(Or is it just a cosmology for my "commitment issues"?!)

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