Those two words put together made me chuckle, one of the best things about the English language is that there’s so many combinations of words that mean similar things but have a different connotation. If I were to say collaborative consumption, would you instantly think to translate that as ‘sharing’?
I sent this article to my family and there was a nice little discussion over email about it. It made me want to write a bit more. The article is here: http://storyofstuff.org/blog/its-time-to-replace-more-with-better-2/
I liked the article for two reasons. One, I agree with it, and two, it’s a different spin on an old idea. It’s put in such a way that the younger set, younger than me, might understand it, especially those who would have grown up middle or upper middle class, and never saw anyone borrow or share. I remember when I was a kid there were plenty of jokes on TV and in the comic strips about neighbors borrowing things and not returning them, but for me it doesn’t seem to be much a part of life (any more).
But I feel keenly the fact that so much ‘stuff’ simply sits in the garage or in the house waiting for once-a-year use. The typical Westerner (I say Westerner because I’m in Australia and they act pretty similar to Americans, and I understand that in England it goes on) seems to accumulate lots of just in case and occasional ‘stuff’ that piles up in the house, jammed into cabinets, basements, and garages. Part of me questions this behaviour, probably because of the way I was raised. I’m not saying my parents didn’t accumulate, they did fine, especially my dad. But somewhere along the way I just got a real allergy for wasteful consumption.
It bothers me that a small hole will render an entire sock useless. I haven’t learned to darn them though. It bothers me that so much of what we buy isn’t very fixable. Just this week, William’s new toy that he got for his birthday was rendered useless, simply because the wheel broke off. But I didn’t have the right glue, the stuff I had wouldn’t hold that kind of plastic, plus, I couldn’t pull it apart to get the steering working. The rest of it worked perfectly, though.
And it also bothers me that there’s so much ‘stuff’ that gets sold every day, only to get thrown in with the hoard of ‘stuff’ that people have, and only used occasionally. It doesn’t bother me enough to become a vigilante crusader or anything, but it’s like an uncomfortable undercurrent.
Between a cheap item that might not last, or isn’t repairable, and a more expensive item that should last longer or is actually repairable, can you guess what most people buy? This is the kind of signal the ‘market’ sends to manufacturers. It constantly amazes me some of the cheap and shoddy items that are being sold today and I think to myself how can there really be a market for this?
Now that said, I think that for lots of items there is a functional/cheap ratio below which an item simply isn’t usable, and many objects are highly reusable due to that threshold being reasonably high.
So, there is this problem of cheap objects that don’t stand up under heavy use, and they’re not easily repaired. In that situation, collaborative consumption looks less viable.
There’s another problem.
Once upon a time, people didn’t move very far away, they stayed in the same job for most of their lives, and they got to know the people in their neighborhood. Sharing worked well in this scenario because they were sharing with people they knew, and they could get their stuff back.
It wasn’t perfect, and sure there were plenty of people who no one lended to, but it’s a big difference to the way many people live today. Workers don’t stay in their jobs as long, they seem to move more often, and for whatever reason, people don’t always get to know their neighbors any more. They might have a small network of former school friends, or former workmates, or people they know from church, but with those kind of friends, it’s not as easy to walk down the street and ask to borrow a saw or an esky. It’s much easier to go and get your own, so then you don’t have to ask anyone.
And let’s not forget, because things aren’t as sturdy any more, and not as fixable, and we’re not as adept at fixing anyway, well, if you lend something out, and it comes back broken, who’s out of pocket? Not the borrower, that’s for sure.
The only real case I can make for collaborative consumption these days is one of my favourite things to do, and that is get to stuff second hand. Not borrowing, but buying at a fraction of the cost. One of my best purchases on eBay was a matched set of bike racks for $80. The retail value was $300 for new, and they worked perfectly. Even when it’s not an absolute steal, say $5 for a $100 item, there’s still a good case here, for the fact that this item will now get a second life, in your hands, provided it hasn’t been destroyed already.
I think in my ideal world, all stores would be replaced by libraries, or borrowing sheds where you can borrow whatever you need, and bring it back. I don’t think this world will ever exist, because there are too many people obsessed with accumulating.
But one can dream.