>Turning Consumerism Into Collaboration

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I’m sure you’ve noticed that we are historically and fundamentally a consumerist society.

We spend a lot of time and money shopping and buying things—many of the things that we buy, we acknowledge that we don’t even need—just check your attic lately? 🙂

Many compulsive buyers have even self-proclaimed themselves “shopaholics.”

Aside from being somewhat obsessive compulsive in the way we treat buying and owning things, we tend to be pretty wasteful in buying and throwing out things, often from individualized, single use servings—think fast food, as one example.

The result, according the Environmental Protection Agency (per WiseGeek), the average American produces 4.4 pounds of garbage a day or 1,600 pounds a year (and that doesn’t include industrial waste or commercial trash).

On the flip side of all the tossing out we do, are “hoarders” or those with the tendency to keep lots of things, often piled high in every corner of their homes and offices; there is even a show called by the same on A&E television dedicated to this.

So we shop a lot, spend a lot, buy a lot, and then consume it, hoard it, or toss it. And we do this with enormous volumes of things and in ridiculously rapid cycle times—for example, how many times a week do you find yourself in the stores buying things or then taking out the trash generated from it? (I can practically hear the lyrics of the Hefty commercial playing: ”Hefty, Hefty, Hefty—Stinky, Stinky, Stinky…”)

Overall, it’s a crazy system of conspicuous consumption driven by perceived needs for materialism, highly refined and effective marketing and advertising techniques, and people’s feelings of relative deprivation.

Yet despite these, there is movement underway to change from a society obscured by habits of personal ownership and consumption to a more healthy and balanced approach based on sharing and reuse.

And this is approach for sharing is happening not just in terms of personal consumption, but also in terms of our organizational use of technology, such as in service-oriented architectures, common and enterprise solutions, virtualization, and cloud computing.

We see change happening as a result of the huge financial deficits we have piled on individually, organizationally, and as a nation; the depletion of our vital natural resources (including concerns about our future energy supplies and other limited raw materials like precious metals etc.); and the fear of pollution and the poisoning our planet for future generations.

An interesting article in Wired called “Other Peoples Property” (Sept. 2010) talks about how we are moving finally toward a model of sharing through peer-to-peer renting sites like at www.zilok.com (with 150,000 items listed including cars, vacations, tools, electronics, cloths, and more) and other swapping sites for books, CDs, video games, etc. like www.swaptree.com. Of course, Zipcars and property timeshares are other fashionable examples of this new way of thinking!

Further, the article references a new book by Rachel Botsman called “What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption,” about how we are moving to a new consumption model that emphasizes “usefulness over ownership, community over selfishness, and sustainability over novelty.”

With new technologies and tools there is more opportunity than ever to share and reuse, for example:

  • Online repositories of goods and advanced search capabilities provides the ability to find exactly what we are looking for.
  • Embedding everyday items with microprocessors, networking them, and aiding them with geolocation, enables us to get self-status on their presence, health and availability for use.
  • E-commerce, electronic payment, and overnight shipping, gives us the ability to have the items available when and where we need them, and we can then return them for someone else to take their turn to use them.

If we can get over the stigma of sharing and reuse, perhaps, the day is coming when we can think of many non-personal items more in terms of community use and less in terms of mine and yours, and we’ll all be the richer for it.