THE SCIENCE OF SHAR­ING

WHAT MAKES A COL­LAB­O­RA­TIVE ECON­OMY WORK

iPhone Life Magazine - - Best Apps - BY MELISSA KRAVITZ

Sev­eral months ago, Lena Dun­ham—cre­ator, writer, and star of HBO’s Girls— un­wit­tingly pointed to a larger trend when she tweeted, “To be clear: I can't drive and as I've aged it's gone from cute to pa­thetic to in­trigu­ing to tragic #strand­ed­for­life.”

While Dun­ham jokes about her in­ep­ti­tude be­hind the wheel, as the so-called voice of her gen­er­a­tion, she rep­re­sents a mas­sively grow­ing num­ber of twenty-first cen­tury Amer­i­cans who don’t want to drive their own car, do their own laun­dry, or make ex­pen­sive pur­chases. In­stead, they col­lab­o­rate to get where they need to go. Ac­cess, rather than own­er­ship, has be­come a con­sumer’s new goal. Why drive or even own a car when you can bor­row a ve­hi­cle or driver at a frac­tion of the cost?

While cab ser­vices, rental car com­pa­nies, and ho­tels still bring in tons of busi­ness, some peo­ple are es­chew­ing those stan­dard ser­vices for a more col­lab­o­ra­tive, grass­roots ap­proach (and one that saves big bucks). Thanks to tech­nol­ogy, we can share with peo­ple whom we’ve never met with the mere swipe of a touch­screen. Peo­ple around the coun­try are lend­ing cars, apart­ments, clothes, and out­door gear to their neigh­bors—or even to com­plete strangers. This will­ing­ness to share valu­able pos­ses­sions with like­minded peers rep­re­sents an un­prece­dented shift in how peo­ple in­ter­act in the world.

For those won­der­ing how this new trend has de­vel­oped, look no fur­ther than suc­cess­ful ser­vices such as Airbnb for va­ca­tion rentals, Lyft for rideshar­ing, TaskRab­bit for er­rand shar­ing, Rover for dog sit­ting, or Posh­mark for fash­ion. You’ll find a com­mon thread: in­tel­li­gent use of mo­bile tech­nol­ogy to fa­cil­i­tate re­li­able in­ter­ac­tions and to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment of safety for cus­tomers.

This new phe­nom­e­non—known as the shar­ing econ­omy or col­lab­o­ra­tive con­sump­tion—was born out of a sim­ple re­al­iza­tion: peo­ple own far too many pos­ses­sions. And when peo­ple aren’t us­ing their sur­plus of stuff, the goods are es­sen­tially use­less. Why let your car sit in a drive­way all day when you can make money by al­low­ing some­one else to use it? Why leave your home empty dur­ing your va­ca­tion when you can profit by rent­ing it out?

Zip­car, a sub­scrip­tion-based car-shar­ing ser­vice launched in 2000, is of­ten cred­ited for the grow­ing suc­cess of the col­lab­o­ra­tive econ­omy. Zip­car, which is still popular to­day, lets mem­bers re­serve nearby ve­hi­cles quickly and af­ford­ably, just by go­ing on­line. Since 2010, rideshar­ing ser­vices such as Uber and Lyft have built upon Zip­car’s suc­cess, dis­rupt­ing the taxi in­dus­try in ma­jor cities around the world. Uber and Lyft, how­ever, re­quire a higher level of trust than Zip­car, re­quir­ing you to hop in the car with a stranger who’s of­ten driv­ing his or her own pri­vate car.

What makes rideshar­ing ser­vices work is that both par­ties feel in con­trol, mak­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence more com­fort­able. Driv- ers have the credit card in­for­ma­tion of pas­sen­gers be­fore they even en­ter the ve­hi­cle, en­sur­ing fair pay­ment. And both the driver and pas­sen­ger can see the iden­tity and rat­ings of the other through the app in­ter­face, help­ing both to feel safer.

An Au­gust 2014, New York mag­a­zine pro­filed four fe­male Uber driv­ers who felt drawn to the job be­cause of its flex­i­ble hours and greater level of trans­parency, which the tra­di­tional, male-dom­i­nated taxi in­dus­try doesn’t pro­vide. “I pick up a lot of school kids on the Up­per East Side and the Up­per West Side; their par­ents trust them to ride with me by them­selves,” said Sugey “Raquel” Ramos, a 38-year-old fe­male driver.

Peo­ple us­ing Airbnb, whether to list their own home or apart­ment or to book a place to stay while on va­ca­tion, re­port a sim­i­lar as­sump­tion of safety. “I chose Airbnb dur­ing a trip to Europe be­cause I was go­ing for an ex­tended pe­riod and stay­ing in a real per­son’s apart­ment made it feel like home,” said Alice Preminger, a re­cent Brown Uni­ver­sity grad­u­ate. Yet Preminger ad­mits that it was still a leap of faith.

Tech­nol­ogy helps to make this leap of faith more palat­able. Let­ting some­one use your most ex­pen­sive pos­ses­sions is eas­ier when the other per­son is held accountable. Peer re­views, such as on sites like Yelp, eBay, and Airbnb, help drive this new level of trust; real peo­ple sub­mit rec­om­men­da­tions or crit­i­cisms, and some­times you can even con­tact those re­view­ers for more in­for­ma­tion. While some sug­gest that so­cial me­dia breeds nar­cis­sism, it also leads to greater trans­parency and a more mag­nan­i­mous spirit to­ward strangers. Sud­denly, sleep­ing in a stranger’s bed doesn’t feel so creepy when you see that you and the host have mu­tual Twit­ter fol­low­ers.

“This is the rea­son that Airbnb works,” said David Nour, au­thor of Re­la­tion­ship Eco­nomics. “There's sense of shared re­spon­si­bil­ity, a pre­sump­tion that you’ll treat [the bor­rowed item] like [it’s] your own.” He also notes the ad­van­tage of be­ing able to find bookings on your own time and on the de­vice of your choice.

This is just the be­gin­ning. With en­tire in­dus­tries be­com­ing passé as tech­nol­ogy rapidly pro­gresses, there are in­creas­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to break into the shar­ing econ­omy and re­vi­tal­ize once-dy­ing trades. “Now we have the op­por­tu­nity to make peo­ple think dif­fer­ently about what they're do­ing and how they're do­ing it,” said Nour.

It’s easy to blame mo­bile tech­nol­ogy for caus­ing peo­ple to forgo real-world in­ter­ac­tions in place of vir­tual ones. But the shar­ing econ­omy is telling a dif­fer­ent story, prov­ing that when we use tech­nol­ogy to cre­ate a solid in­fra­struc­ture for shar­ing, peo­ple can safely in­ter­act and connect with each other in the real world in ex­tra­or­di­nary new ways.

“SLEEP­ING IN A STRANGER’S BED DOESN’T FEEL SO CREEPY WHEN YOU SEE THAT YOU AND THE HOST HAVE MU­TUAL TWIT­TER FOL­LOW­ERS”.

Melissa Kravitz is a writer living in New York City. She free­lances for var­i­ous news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, and web­sites, and is work­ing on a novel. She likes read­ing, go­ing for long walks, cooking, and order­ing food from var­i­ous apps. You can find her on Twit­ter @meliss­a­bethk.

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