The Rise of Collaborative Consumption with Rachel Botsman

Rachel BotsmanThe following is an edited and transcribed excerpt of Rachel Botsman’s TED talk, “The Rise of Collaborative Consumption”. Rachel is a keynote speaker at Agile Australia 2014.

How many of you have books, CDs, DVDs, or videos lying around your house that you probably won’t use again, but you can’t quite bring yourself to throw away?

We have a box set of the DVD series 24, season six to be precise. My husband and I love this show. But let’s face it, when you’ve watched it once or twice, you don’t really want to watch it again because you know how Jack Bauer is going to defeat the terrorists. So there it sits on our shelves, obsolete to us, but with immediate latent value to someone else.

I have a confession to make: I am a big fan of Sex and the City. How easily could I swap our unwanted copy of 24 for a wanted copy of Sex and the City?

There’s a new sector emerging called swap-trading. It’s like an online dating service for your unwanted media. It uses the internet to create an infinite marketplace to match person A’s ‘haves’ with person C’s ‘wants’, whatever they may be.

The other week, I went on a swap-trading site and there were over 59,300 items that I could instantly swap for my copy of 24, including a ‘like-new’ copy of Sex and the City.

My passion, and what I’ve spent the last few years dedicated to researching, is the collaborative behaviors and trust-mechanics inherent in these systems. It would have seemed like a crazy idea, even a few years ago, that I would swap my stuff with a total stranger whose real name I didn’t know and without any money changing hands.

So what’s happening here? An extremely powerful dynamic that has huge commercial and cultural implications is at play. Namely, that technology is enabling trust between strangers.

Collaborative consumption is a powerful cultural and economic force reinventing not just what we consume, but how we consume.

We now live in a global village where we can mimic the ties that used to happen face to face, but on a scale and in ways that have never been possible before.

Social networks and real-time technologies are taking us back. We’re bartering, trading, swapping, sharing, but they’re being reinvented into dynamic and appealing forms – from the mighty eBay, the grandfather of exchange marketplaces; to car- sharing companies such as GoGet, where you pay a monthly fee to rent cars by the hour; to social lending platforms such as Zopa, that will take anyone with 100 dollars to lend, and match them with a borrower anywhere in the world; we’re sharing and collaborating again in ways that I believe are more hip than hippie.

I call this groundswell ‘collaborative consumption’.

It’s happening because of four key drivers: One, a renewed belief in the importance of community, and a redefinition of what friend and neighbour really means. Two, a torrent of peer-to-peer social networks and real-time technologies, fundamentally changing the way we behave. Three, pressing unresolved environmental concerns. And four, a global recession that fundamentally shocked consumer behaviours.

These four drivers fused together to create the big shift away from the 20th century, defined by hyper-consumption, towards the 21st century, defined by collaborative consumption.

I genuinely believe we’re at an inflection point where the sharing behaviours that are becoming second nature online are now being applied to offline areas of our everyday lives. From morning commutes to the way fashion is designed to the way we grow food, we are consuming and collaborating once again.

I want to give you an example of how powerful collaborative consumption can be to change behaviours. The average car costs 8,000 dollars a year to run. Yet, that car sits idle for 23 hours a day. When you consider these two facts, it starts to make a little less sense that we have to own one outright. This is where car-sharing companies such as Zipcar and GoGet come in. In 2009, Zipcar took 250 participants from across 13 cities – all self-confessed car addicts and car-sharing rookies – and got them to surrender their keys for a month. Instead, they had to walk, bike, take the train, or other forms of public transport. They could only use their Zipcar membership when absolutely necessary.

The results of this challenge after just one month was staggering. It’s amazing that 187 kilos were lost just from the extra exercise. But my favorite statistic is that 100 out of the 250 participants did not want their keys back. In other words, the car addicts had lost their urge to own.

Our generation’s relationship to satisfying what we want is far less tangible than any other previous generation. I don’t want the DVD; I want the movie it carries. I don’t want a clunky answering machine; I want the message it saves. I don’t want a CD; I want the music it plays. In other words, I don’t want stuff; I want the needs or experiences it fulfills. This is fueling a massive shift from where usage trumps possessions – or as Kevin Kelly, the editor of Wired magazine, puts it, “where access is better than ownership.”

I’m on a mission to make sharing cool, because I really believe it can disrupt outdated modes of business, help us leapfrog over wasteful forms of hyper-consumption and teach us when enough really is enough.

Watch Rachel’s TED Talk in full.

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