16 February 2011

Changing Models of Ownership

Excerpt from
Shareable, 8 February 2011

'From cars to CDs, houses to handbags, people are no longer aspiring to own. Belongings which used to be the standard by which to measure personal success, status, and security are increasingly being borrowed, traded, swapped, or simply left on the shelf. Various factors – arguably the most important being an increasingly connected and digitally networked society, regardless of economic development – are causing revolutionary global shifts in behavior. As quickly as a new laptop becomes yesterday’s technology in a brittle plastic shell, or a power tool idly collects dust in the garage, it seems that material possessions are changing from treasure into junk, from security into liability, from freedom into burden, and from personal to communal.

Through global research conducted as part of an investigation into the concept of ownership, Claro Partners was able to draw some conclusions about why it’s more appealing to have a car only when you need to move from A to B. We also started to ask questions about what new challenges people face in a climate where transient access to services – rather than permanent acquisition of products – is more efficient and actually makes more economic sense. Furthermore, from the cloud to the crowd, we asked whether the concept of ownership is even applicable to today’s world.

Ownership becomes a burden
In societies saturated by hyper-consumption, the joy of acquiring, of holding the new object in your hands and knowing with satisfaction that it’s yours, is familiar. Equally recognizable, though, is that creeping anxiety when the sheen starts to fade and your mind gets distracted with a new, better, life-improving version, and at this intersection, ownership becomes a pain, a burden. The product’s value becomes outweighed by concerns of maintenance, optimization of use, and finding a good home for your once-loved product, be it through recycling or re-use. This cycle seems to be becoming ever-shorter, especially in the Western world where gadgets rule and electronics are designed to fail, and both people and businesses are developing strategies to deal with the highs and lows of ownership.

The trade-off of ownership for access

Despite the infinite diversity of the human race, we’re actually quite similar in the kind of things we want to achieve on a day-to-day basis and, collectively, we’re beginning to realize that there’s little reason not to share the resources necessary to achieve these goals. With increased connectivity through modern technology, networks at both a global and local level are growing rapidly whilst new communities can develop and flourish through digital channels. These, in turn, allow for resources to be shared, swapped, borrowed, and traded while providing a platform where exclusive belongings are simply irrelevant.

As suggested by Rachel Botsman in What’s Mine Is Yours (2010), four factors – environmental concerns, reduced spending power, the resurgence of communities, and new technological platforms – have facilitated the rise of collaborative consumption and, in the current climate, alternatives to ownership are starting to seem like a good trade-off for not having the CD on your shelf or the car in your driveway.

Equally, this environment encourages new systems to grow organically from the bottom up, naturally streamlined and designed to be resilient from the start. Effectively, access to the products or the means to achieve a specific goal has become good enough in these circumstances and a viable and appealing antidote to individual ownership. Of course, Shareable.net is both an expert and a product of this movement and many examples of this approach to consumption/acquisition/life can be found within the pages here.

Filtering the data we can access

Replacing ownership with access is not without its challenges to consumption, however. As well as providing a platform on which to connect with people, the Internet has provided us with more data than we could ever want at our fingertips and, consequently, means that we have to spend effort in handpicking what we really want to focus on.

As stated by Seth Godin and later quoted by Chris Anderson in Free (2009): every abundance creates a new scarcity. Our finite time and attention is faced with a sheer abundance of information wanting to be found, read, heard, watched, and consumed, and we are faced with the problem of digital noise. Unfortunately, one Googler’s junk is another Googler’s treasure, and that means there’s no one definitive filtering solution, so people are adopting their own systems to deal with the influx of information, driven to use various ad-hoc methods to curate the content they encounter.

For example, in Sao Paolo, we spoke to someone who no longer reads newspapers and magazines, but instead displays constant Twitter feeds from friends on a large TV screen for a source of real-time news with the added value of the attached commentary. Another tech-minded interviewee in San Francisco collected films based on their ratings on a collection of trusted movie review sites and another relied on his network of friends for the latest YouTube memes.

Social networks play an important role in the filtering of the constant flow of new data; according to a recent study, 48% of young Americans find out about news through Facebook. Likewise, strategies for streamlining belongings are being applied to the physical world, where quality and access are ruling over quantity and material possessions. A U.S. research respondent consciously subscribed to a “less stuff, but better stuff” lifestyle, making decisions to acquire, consume, and keep only the things that he saw to be of value and never a burden...'

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