Sharing is good, and it always has been. From the beginning of time, parents have taught their kids to share with their siblings. Religions over the ages have encouraged those who have more to share with those who have less. Governments in modern times (the best ones, at least) work to share the wealth of the country with all fellow citizens.
The history of humans sharing is long, and the benefits many. But as good as sharing has been in the past, its future holds even more promise.
It’s only been 10 years since the arrival of the iPhone provided the key piece of infrastructure that led to the emergence of the so-called sharing economy. Once increasing numbers of people had handheld computers connecting them to everyone else, it became much easier to efficiently share rooms, cars, tools, pets — you name it. Throw in the financial crash of 2008 and years of tough economic times, and you had the sparks that started a revolution. With the birth of the sharing economy, people who owned underutilized assets could make some extra money, and users could get a better deal exchanging or sharing than if they bought new goods.
Think of that first decade of the sharing economy as the disruptive phase. The explosive growth in home sharing and car sharing and skill sharing increasingly became disruptive to the incumbent players (like hotels and taxis) and legacy systems that had been providing similar services. Governments, particularly at the city level where the action took place, didn’t really know what to do with this new phenomenon.
In the next decade, we’re facing the system change phase. We know that the sharing economy is real, growing, and very popular among a burgeoning number of stakeholders. It also provides social benefits that are well worth encouraging. Sharing resources make sense in crowded cities faced with mounting concerns about increasing pressures on the environment and worldwide climate change. And the exchange of services often facilitates more face-to-face contact between fellow citizens and the platforms can help build trust among total strangers.
Given the positives, how do we mitigate any negatives? How do we make the sharing economy less disruptive? How do we regularize it, or (in government terms) regulate it to fit in with all the other systems society runs? In other words, how do we make the sharing economy work for everyone? Those are the questions we’ll address in our new Future of Sharing publication on Medium.
So, what is the Future of Sharing?
Last year Reinvent began a project called The Future of Sharing that started to deeply explore those big questions and what was coming next in the sharing economy. We sought out several dozen thought leaders from a wide variety of fields who offered intriguing perspectives on the sharing economy. We engaged each of them in deep hour-long conversations captured on video. We also did a lot of research about what was actually happening in all aspects of the sharing economy, where could it go in the coming years, and what problems it might be causing. But at all times we were looking for potential solutions, better public policy, anything that could help make the sharing economy work better for everyone in the long run.
Now we are launching The Future of Sharing, a new online publication on Medium designed to explore much of what we have learned and will continue to learn this year. We’ll explore big ideas, often linked to deep dive conversations with thought leaders. We’ll provide transcripts of especially important passages from those conversations. We will write essays and articles that connect the dots between the various interviews and synthesize themes that emerge. We will also write and curate posts that connect what we have been learning to developments in the news. And when we come across some striking data in our research, we’ll publish graphics here too.
We’re also launching a podcast that takes listeners through key topics in order to build a better understanding of the sharing economy. We’ll start with something simple: “What is the Sharing Economy?” The answer, it turns out, is not so simple. Listen to find out.
The publication on Medium ties back to this website, where you can find full bios of those thought leaders, as well as video of all the full hour-long interviews with special highlight tabs that enable you to quickly navigate to some of the best passages.
A special focus on sustainability and the world
The Future of Sharing project this year will pay special attention to two areas, both highlighted in the navigation bar of the publication. First, we want to dive deeper into sustainability, the many ways the sharing economy could help or hinder efforts to lower our impact on the planet. Second, we want to incorporate a global perspective into this publication by looking at how the sharing economy works in various regions around the world.
The future of the sharing economy is inextricably bound with the future of work. The last couple decades of increasing globalization and the adoption of digital technologies have wrought massive changes in the larger economy, including the loss of many full-time jobs and the increase of contract labor. These developments, in turn, helped drive the growth in the sharing economy. The next decade may see an even more profound impact on the economy and nature of work with the coming of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics. When particularly relevant to the sharing economy, we will report on ideas about the future of work too.
This project is brought to you by Reinvent, a media company that specializes in engaging remarkable innovators in deep conversations about how to more fundamentally reinvent systems and solve complex challenges. We’re based in San Francisco but connect up diverse networks of intellectuals and innovators at the top of their fields from around the world. We partner with organizations that share an interest in driving more innovation in a field.
In The Future of Sharing, we are partnering with Airbnb, which underwrites the project in order to enable our independent efforts. Like other companies that support public broadcasting or sponsor conferences, they do not have editorial control. They want to see more deep thinking and serious discussions about the future of this very important field.
We hope you do too, and will follow our work and will help spread the word. The future of sharing holds much promise, but many pitfalls. Now it’s up to each of us to make it work for all.
Intrigued? Visit the publication here.