“They will never give up ownership altogether”
Giulia Ranzini, an expert on the sharing economy, talks about how millennials view ownership, loneliness on social media and protecting digital privacy.
Dr. Ranzini, the Youth Barometer tells us that most millennials embrace the idea of “sharing rather than owning.” Why is this generation so open to the concept of shared ownership?
Having grown up with technology, millennials are used to the idea of shared content. So they take a fundamentally different approach to ownership. The idea of owning digital music, for example, seems absurd to a 19-year-old.
Are they also favorably disposed to sharing other types of products and services?
Studies have shown that members of this generation now make up the largest group of users of platforms like Airbnb and Uber. It’s only natural, however, that 16- to 25-year-olds are more active on the “consumer” than the “sharer” side. They use the possessions of other people that they can’t afford to buy. When they are making more money, they will hopefully be more involved on the provider side. But one thing is also certain: They will never give up ownership altogether.
The older generation tends to struggle with the idea of the sharing economy – despite its many advantages.
Yes, older people have more difficulty with mobile technologies, and particularly with the various applications. As a result, they have fundamental concerns about these technologies; at any rate, they encounter problems and are less comfortable using them. They also worry about privacy.
In what cases will young people never embrace the idea of sharing?
“Being an adult” has always been strongly linked with personal wealth, as demonstrated by possessing certain assets – such as a car or a house. It will be interesting to see whether this will change among the younger generation – but so far I’ve seen no evidence of that.
Are there cultural differences in people’s acceptance and utilization of the sharing economy?
Ps2share, a large-scale research project we conducted in collaboration with teams from five universities, found that the rate of participation in sharing platforms was highest in countries such as France and the UK and lowest in countries such as the Netherlands and Norway.
Is it a coincidence that people in wealthier societies are less interested in sharing?
The economic situation might be one factor. But the main reason why a person chooses not to participate in the sharing economy seems to be a lack of digital skills. So a variety of factors are at play here.
In every social unit, and especially in online communities, we are seeing a decline in people’s sense of belonging. Should we be concerned about members of the millennial generation becoming increasingly isolated?
In the case of online activity, this finding is not very surprising. There has been a dramatic change in the way younger people use social media; more and more,
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users are leaving Facebook in favor of platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. These platforms tend to facilitate a “one versus many” rather than group-based kind of communication. It is therefore no wonder that users feel less like members of a group. The support of communities, what we call social capital, is less present in newer social media platforms.
You have conducted several studies to examine how people represent themselves on social media. How does the way young people portray themselves in the digital arena differ from who they actually are?
Every social network is different, and how users present themselves is greatly influenced by individual characteristics as well as by the composition of the respective network. On Myspace and Second Life, which were among the earliest social media platforms, users went by fictional names or even avatars. Today the world of social media is dominated by networks like Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram, which generally include users’ actual names and personal photos. So it’s not so much a matter of reinventing oneself or experimenting with a different persona, but rather of deciding how to present one’s actual self. I don’t think this will change in the foreseeable future.
According to the Youth Barometer, young people are aware of online dangers and know how to protect themselves. Is digital security no longer a problem for this generation?
Various studies have shown that teenagers are better at managing their online privacy than commonly thought – and they are also better at managing what we call online stress: the compulsion to be constantly online, for fear of missing out. Nevertheless, it’s a good thing that schools are paying more attention to the topic of privacy, especially now that the line between online and off-line is becoming increasingly blurred. But I think these topics should be introduced at an even earlier stage.
What role should parents play?
They need to be alert to signs of addictive behavior. And they should talk with their children about data privacy. The problem is that as technology is advancing so rapidly, they sometimes lose touch. They no longer understand the world that their children are navigating so effortlessly.
You’re an expert on the millennial generation. What social media do you use?
Now you’ve caught me. I really only use Twitter, and mainly to share content related to my professional life. And to be honest, I don’t draw a clear line between the professional and the personal, although perhaps I should. By the way, researchers have a name for this phenomenon – even when people are concerned about data privacy and aware of the dangers, they still fail to protect themselves. We call it the “dataprotection paradox.”
GIULIA RANZINI, 32, is an assistant professor of communication science at the Free University of Amsterdam. Her research focuses on information sharing and social media. Ranzini, who is originally from Italy, previously worked as a research assistant at the University of St. Gallen.