The sharing economy: Uber and Airbnb are just the beginning

3 min read

Uber, Airbnb, toy swapping. The sharing economy has its origins in our stone age ancestors - and in its modern incarnation, once again has the power to create positive change for humankind.

Sharing isn’t unique to humans and we’ve certainly used it as we’ve built civilisations, and created technology and art through collaborative tools, knowledge, and emotions.

Our ancestors moved the evolutionary process along by sharing. Studies show that the more groups of Homo sapiens shared, survival rates improved and technology advanced.

The information age is no exception when it comes to the benefits of sharing for humanity’s improvement. In recent years, it seems our love affair with the sharing of goods and resources for financial, personal and ecological gain economy has been reignited. According to The Economist, the resurgence appears to have its origins about 20 years ago, when people became comfortable with buying and selling online, and also collaborating with strangers over the internet.

“The sharing economy first started as a small niche that few people practiced, but it went mainstream quite quickly,” says Dr Amantha Imber, founder of Australia's leading innovation consultancy Inventium, and bestselling author of The Innovation Formula.

Many people initially had security concerns about sharing their homes, cars or lawnmowers with strangers. However, as more and more people kept having good experiences, the movement gathered pace. Today, the sharing economy isn’t just something cool kids do. It’s a major and dynamic driver of the global economy.

In New South Wales alone, the sharing economy is worth $500 million annually. Since most of the participants tend to be younger people, the numbers can only be expected to grow – as the digital native generations become more prominent in the global population.

It’s easy to simplify the sharing economy as an extension of the bartering traditions that have always been an inherent human practice. According to Imber, that might be true to a certain degree, but those who participate in the modern-day sharing economy usually have different motivations than survival and mere financial gain.

“The sharing economy is about people finding ways to reuse the resources rather than creating new or unnecessary ones,” she says.

“It’s forcing us to change how we think about the consumption,” she states, adding that most people who tap into the sharing economy do so very deliberately.

“They’re concerned with the environmental consequences of consuming too much. They choose to share instead of buying.”

Imber also believes the sharing economy is set to take over the world. “It all started with more obvious exchanges, like homes or cars. But as it’s evolving, it’s spreading to many different areas.”

“As a mother of a toddler, I regularly use sharing economy services to make my life easier,” Imber explains, referring to the growing movement of millions of mothers around the world who swap toys and clothing, exchange childcare services or share meals together.

According to Imber, aside from the financial and ecological benefits, the most positive side effect of the new sharing economy is that it brings people together in a world that is increasingly uncertain and violent.

“In our hectic modern lives, many people suffer from loneliness and isolation,” adds Imber. “The sharing economy can re-introduce friendliness and a sense of community. It can connect people and remove the sense of isolation from millions.”

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This information is current as at 15/12/2016.

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