Not long ago, people wanted to “Keep up with the Joneses” by buying the latest car model or dressing to impress. The 2007-2009 recession changed this for many, pushing many to live paycheck to paycheck. The sharing economy has been a lifesaver, providing jobs and giving people access instead of ownership.
In this article, I will describe the key building blocks of the sharing economy and why it’s caused a shift in the way people consume. Collaborative consumption isn’t new, but technology has spread this more sustainable economic model globally. It has helped many people reenter the workforce after the economy’s latest downturn. My experience writing for Near Me has given me a bird’s eye view of how this economy is empowering a new generation.
Access instead of ownership
Growing up, we never had a new car for our family. My siblings and I once ducked our heads in the backseat driving past our neighbors out of embarrassment, sitting in a wood-paneled green station wagon my dad had picked up for $200 at a garage sale. Instead of material possessions, my parents wanted us to have experiences. I should have appreciated what my parents were trying to instill, but kids will be kids.
Those experiences, however, were quite memorable and often involved traveling. Some of my most vivid childhood memories include eating giant turkey drumsticks at Disney World, or playing with my cousin on a trip to my mother’s homeland, Japan. Many young people today share this attitude and prefer to have experiences over ownership. It’s more important to live in the moment and experience things than it is to own a lot of stuff.
This attitude is in contrast to the cultures of consumption of the past. In the eighties, people spent a lot to keep up with the Joneses. You need only look at the films (Wall Street, Scarface) that glamorized high-risk ventures and the glitzy lifestyle that came with it -- but with not-so glamorous consequences. Post WW2 America also saw a surge in economic prosperity, beginning the notion of wanting to keep up with your neighbors. This meant having a new car, the latest kitchen appliances and clothes that reflected your status in society.
Although the media still promotes lifestyles of rich celebrities, most millennials want to have experiences instead of owning a lot.
Earning an extra income
On my way to work the other day, I had a conversation with a Lyft driver at our corner coffee shop. His eyes lit up when I told him that I write a blog for the sharing economy and am familiar with issues that arise within the sharing economy sphere. I brought up how Lyft is known to treat their drivers better, and he completely agreed. He told me that he drives for Lyft exclusively, working 12 hours a day and 6 days a week. He seemed happy, which confirmed my good feelings about how the company treats its contractors. I asked him if he is able to earn a good living driving for the ridesharing company, to which he replied:
“If you call making $2400 as week making a good income!”
Although this Lyft driver was working full-time, many people are earning a side income by driving part-time or renting out their homes on Airbnb or HomeStay. From students to retirees, the sharing economy offers many opportunities to make ends meet.
Did the world always move so fast? It seems that we are constantly running around: wake up and go to work; order Christmas presents online; attend meetup to network; pick up healthy groceries for dinner; make dinner and lunch for tomorrow -- press start the next day. With this hectic lifestyle, on demand services like Instacart and Postmates allow us to have more time for what’s important. For instance, If you’re a single parent and need to catch up on emails when you get home, it could save you time to focus on your priorities. You could even spend more time with your kids. Being busy is just the world we live in, but there are now on-demand services for just about everything.
As we have seen, the way people consume reflects the economic climate of the time, but also reflects their values. The greed of Wall Street created a backlash towards large institutions, paving the way for the sharing economy to grow. While some people don’t see the connection between the backlash towards consumerism and the rise of the sharing economy, I see the connection clearly.