"There were other forms of sharing" before the sharing economy, says Frank Trentmann: libraries and swimming pools, for example. © Niklas Grapatin for TIME ONLINE
Sometimes lectures change the world. Or, at least, they change the way we think about things and what we use them: barely a decade ago, in May 2010, the publicist Rachel Botsman gave a TED talk in Sydney in which she pleaded that we humans Goods and services should rather share, rather than buying them in a conventional way. Botsman called this collaborative consumption , cooperative consumption, which should be more sustainable, more social, and resource efficient than the old-fashioned shop-and-throw-away model.
Why would we buy a drill, for example, if we were to drill holes in walls for a quarter of an hour on average, until the end of their product lives? Why was not there a drill for a lot of people? The quite utopian idea was then popularized under the term "sharing economy", which refers to the supposedly new way of doing business.
Because that would not have been so new nearly ten years ago, says the consumer historian Frank Trentmann in the new episode of the digital podcast Will that be? from ZEIT ONLINE: "Even cavemen have shared things." The idea of sharing, lending, and lending is as old as ownership, according to Trentmann, who teaches history at Birkbeck College, University of London. And much of what is strictly speaking the concept of sharing economy, we would simply not perceive as something that we share: public libraries, public swimming pools, public transport. But just these institutions, which are mostly maintained by cities, have been in the past decades under austerity.
At the time of Botsman's presentation, the two most well-known sharing economy companies today, the Uber carpooling service and the Airbnb accommodation service, existed for a year or two years. And the latest loaner of our "hypermobile time", as Trentmann calls the present, was not even invented: the e-scooter. But is driving around on scooters seriously what is left of the utopia of the sharing economy? Have we not been promised any more, have not we promised ourselves more? Are the sharing economy companies really fair to the people who work for them? And how exactly does the future of consumption look like?
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