On the Future of OwnershipAugust 1st, 2011
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the future of ownership. There have been shifts in societal thinking about the idea of owning something. If you use a hammer only once or twice a year, do you really need to own one? Why not rent, or better yet, borrow one? The idea of hoarding things for ’someday’ is losing ground.
This isn’t a new concept.
Books used to be incredibly labor-intensive and costly to produce. If you had a personal collection, you were probably wealthy. In order to build a more educated public, libraries were used to bring material to people who would otherwise be unable to access such information. This was huge for academics; scholars could consume books at an even greater rate. Hundreds of years later, everyone is familiar with libraries. And while they might be struggling against e-books, we can all agree that the idea of the library is hugely successful.
Why stop at books?
- Film: Video rental services from Blockbuster to Netflix have proven that people would rather have access to a greater number of films.
- Music: Pandora and Spotify are proving that you no longer need to own music.
- Bicycles: In major metropolitan areas, bike sharing businesses are starting up. In Europe, they’ve been around for awhile now.
- Cars: Zipcar is growing as more people realize the huge expense of a car doesn’t give the “freedoms” promised by automobile ownership. When you can get around by metro, bike, or walking, a car is superfluous for all but special occasions.
- Hard drive space: You no longer even need to own personal hard drive space. Enough free and premium services exist that your entire digital life can be stored in the cloud.
“Do more, own less, rent the rest.”
Derek Thompson wrote an article for The Atlantic on “America’s Post-Ownership Future”. He talks about the rise of sharing and rental websites that allow people to share resources. This is exciting as we move from a consumer-economy to a producer-consumer economy of “a network of users constantly producing valuable information as they consume products.” This is already happening. Have you reviewed something you bought on Amazon? Do you use online banking or Mint.com? Have you ever used a search engine? You are creating valuable data.
Toward a future ownership.
This all has interesting consequences for society at large. It could lead toward a more community-based lifestyle, which ultimately would be better for humans and the planet. When less products have to be made to satisfy larger groups, less resources are consumed.
Thompson says it is a bit too early to get overly excited about this movement. I say, why not? If that is a desirable future, why shouldn’t that be our goal rather than sitting back to see what happens?
If you’re interested, I’d encourage you to read these other articles on post-ownership.