Collaborative consumption: keeping in with the Joneses

I’m a big believer in the power the language we speak has over our perception of the world. Every language has its own idioms; every idiom is a glimpse into the heart of a culture.

In a recent talk on Collaborative Consumption, social innovator, Rachel Botsman, summed up 20th Century consumption as ‘keeping up with the Joneses’; post-war, baby boomer, hyper-consumption driven by heavy-handed marketing and the imprint of ownership and one-upmanship on the social psyche.

In her book, ‘What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption’, co-authored by Roo Rogers, Botsman argues that we are currently undergoing a generational shift in the way we consume, moving away from ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ to, for want of a better expression, ‘keeping in with the Joneses’.

Put bluntly, we all got fed up of feeling like a society of isolated individuals and used the internet, and more specifically Web 2:0, to start connecting with one another again; to get away from corporations and back to our peers for “swapping, sharing, bartering, trading and renting”.

You only have to look at the growth of online auctions (eBay), house swaps (Airbnb), car pools (Liftshare), garden dating (Landshare) and so on to see that the new generation is no longer consumed by ownership. Possession has almost become a bind for people; we simply want products for their uses as and when we need them.

So how does this affect brands? Well, for a start, as the Harvard Business Review puts it, the value proposition needs to change. BMW has already jumped on board, offering its own car sharing programme.

It sounds harmonious in theory, but surely there are side-effects. Illegal file sharing; isn’t that collaborative consumption taken to anarchistic levels?

And will people become collaboratively consumed? Does this spell the end of employment contracts?

I find collaborative consumption inherently appealing, but I still feel uncertainty about it. And that’s why I’ve written this post, to encourage debate and conflict and hopefully help a wonderful concept grow.


© Rachel Botsman. “WHAT’S MINE IS YOURS“. Video

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