Future of Sharing: The Author of “Sharing Nicely” Analyzes Society’s Progress Over a Decade Later

Yochai Benkler, Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, first explored the potential of the modern sharing economy in a Yale Law Journal article in 2004, and is credited as one of the first people to articulate the concept. More than a decade later, Benkler spoke about how our reality measures up to his initial conception. In this interview, he outlined the transition of sharing information through social networks to sharing within a market framework. “It takes time to be a decent sharer,” Benkler said. “It takes emotional load. Sometimes it’s just easier to pay, depending on what you’re trying to do.” Benkler prefers the term “on-demand economy” for those companies that incorporate a market framework.

Benkler talked about why the sharing economy translates better to some sectors than others (it has to do with whether the service is comprised of discrete, homogenous chunks). He discussed the “hards limits on the possible” that technology engenders. The internal combustion engine, for example, rendered horses and buggies obsolete. Benkler encouraged a restructuring of our current extractive economic system, which too often prioritizes executive compensation above all else. When it comes to municipal regulation of the sharing or on-demand economy, Benkler advises defining a set of values first, then designing the minimum feasible amount of regulation. “As long as we continue to commit to embed what we do in social and human relations,” Benkler says, “we’ll at the end of the day be able to nudge it in the right direction.”