Is the sharing economy just greenwashing 3.0?
In short: yes and no. The Sharing Economy has produced Uber and AirBnB, hardly exemplars of progressivism or radicalism. However, it has also embraced long-neglected communal concepts like coops, coworking and cohousing, open source software and hardware, and resilience through community-based solidarity.
These things can be twisted into some Ayn Rand-ignited fever dream in the wrong hands, but it doesn’t mean that the movement is worthless. What the sharing economy lacks is a consistent, underlying ideology. But that doesn’t mean that the concept is fundamentally flawed, or merely just marketing smoke and mirrors.
The Sharing Economy emerged in response to a number of factors:
* the notion that physical goods and services could be easily traded based on physical proximity, aided by the Internet.
* Social networking (duh)
* The decline of the middle class and the resultant fear and desire to find other sources of income.
* The increasing importance and value of long-standing community resources like coops and libraries
* The increase in freelance and permalance work, and the resulting need to forge a community of people outside of traditional workspaces and social settings
Certainly, the embrace of popular jackasses like Thomas Friedman and Ashton Kucher complicate the picture. And like any emergent grassroots movement that attains a particular amount of resonance, the Sharing Economy will be defined in popular culture by these bullshitters. But their vision does not encompass the scope or potential it represents.
The critics will continue to hatewank via academic critical theory; concurrently the loudest supporters will make asses of themselves as they vaunt some masturbatory libertarian dream.
All the while, people will continue to find new ways to connect and share resources, whether they do so through the internet, libraries, coops, coworking spaces, music clubs, or any other number of places and contexts where people connect and share.
The Sharing Economy, such that it is, is neither a revolution nor a mere marketing pitch. Its qualities and potential have been evident since the inception of p2p online markets like eBay, as have its problematic aspects. And even if its ideological basis remains fuzzy, its relevance — and the positive intentions and actions of the majority of its adherents — do not.
Despite this, the intent and potential of the Sharing Economy can not — and should not — be confined to the handful of startup ignoramuses who believe that the language of sharing can greenwash their money grab.