Collaborative consumption and the access economy are the new normal, and disownership is a trend that’s set to continue, writes Valentina Doorly.
We all fought for it, didn’t we? The best cave and the biggest boar. The tallest tower in town for the highest heap of gold.
The flashy car, double elevation house with palatial extension, surround sound system and floodlit garden.
Individuals, companies and countries have fought for possessions, for so long and so intently. There is no blow or trick we would not stoop to, in order to outdo each other in the ascent to this imaginary Olympus of wealth. One would think the instinct of possession and ownership is innate in our race, one wired with kleptocracy in its DNA. The scarcer the coveted goods at stake, the harsher the fight.
If this is the case, we may soon know for sure, for the founding principle of the ‘value’ of things being linked to their scarcity may well have entered its dusk. Were we fighting because goods and supplies were scarce, or because we just wanted to, insatiable little locusts that we are?
THE AGE OF OVERSUPPLY
The well-informed circle of forecasters and global observers has been signaling for some time that automation, coupled with digital distribution, is bringing about the age of oversupply, where the per-item cost will softly land on a curve as flat as a pancake.
The Internet has brought about a new way of acquiring services and products without physical possession: streaming them. Two years ago, streamed music revenue surpassed digital and retail sales combined, with a total turnover of $2.5bn worldwide (1). Now the streaming economy has spilled over into the realm of physical things, giving way to the ‘access economy’, which offers a prompt response to the demand of saving money, avoiding storage and maintenance costs. From ride-sharing companies to household tools, to heavy machineries shared between municipalities (already a common practice in Germany) smart companies are more and more frequently changing their business models towards offering access to their goods and services rather than ownership.
The age of disownership is fast gaining momentum in the transport industry, as car sharing and pay-per-use services are infiltrating the first tier of urban areas like a knife slicing through butter, recording explosive growth, particularly in clusters with high levels of business and leisure tourism. The garish colours of companies like Car2Go, Drive Now, Blablacar, and Share and Go, are adding colour to the streets of Berlin, London, Florence and Paris. In Italy alone, there are over 5,000 vehicles in circulation, with 30 million kilometers covered in 2016 (2).
“Smart companies are changing their business models towards offering access to their goods and services rather than ownership”
GoCar has been operating in Dublin since 2008, and recently launched a new fleet service, aimed at property developers and management companies to offer a pool car to residents or companies in their buildings. Could this solution ease the premium on parking spaces? This service has helped with the move to parking-less developments in London and other European cities, and continues to be a growing trend. New development sites in Poolbeg and Cherrywood will be ‘parking-lite’, and the Luas Cross City development is causing the loss of over 400 parking spaces. Could car ownership be gradually edged out as a viable means of transport in the greater Dublin area?
Innovation sometimes acts as a phenomenal buster of inefficiency, pointing its finger to well consolidated routines and practices that suddenly show their age, and irrelevance. Car ownership is one, as research tell us that, on average, we use our cars only 5% of their lifetimes, leaving the remaining 95% to rest in garages or dust under the maple tree (3).
Within transports the new era will usher us from buying cars to buying trips, with the new frontier being integrated platforms – like Urbi, in Berlin – that combine and offer all available transports in one digital environment; pay per use and car-share, scooter sharing, bike sharing, public transports, Uber or similar mobility suppliers. These types of apps are being tested in Berlin, Milan and Helsinki, where with a modest monthly membership one can access all transport.
I SHOULD COCO
Overall, new words bearing the prefix ‘co-‘ are sprouting up, like mushrooms, to describe a collaborative, sharing way of conducting our existences. Given the popularity of co-housing, co-working, co-living, co-operatives, collectives, one wonders if unsuspecting Millennials going back into the arms of a rejuvenated Marxism? Are we witnessing an anthropological change?
Maybe, we are not innately bellicose towards one another after all. We are just a gregarious species that longs for infinite amounts of cups of coffee and interminable convivial conversations and get-togethers. Let’s talk.
The signs of our collaborative instinct should have been picked up from seemingly harmless expressions: It was evident in the Scandinavian-style communal tables that started appearing in the groovy cafés of urbanite Europe some years ago. It was the readiness with which we all embraced the peer-to-peer economy, that got us comfortably gliding around somebody’s else Airbnb house in our slippers and pyjamas.
“No sense of imminent threat or scarcity drives the hunger for possession any longer”
LET IT GO
An entire generation is being celebrated by a commercial, running currently, that states, “We may not have the big things, but we do have our freedom”. The “big things” being the aforementioned set of traditional properties and certainties, and the “freedom” being freedom from the anchoring influence of material possessions.
The mobile and transient Millennial urbanites – yes, those defeated by the Brexit vote because they were too distracted, too busy texting, to cast their votes – have a deeply transformed attitude to ownership. No sense of imminent threat or scarcity drives the hunger for possession any longer. It’s a generation that is seriously considering letting it go. Even the figures for getting driving licenses have been in freefall for some time, especially in the Sates (4).
A shiver of pleasure accompanies the experience of using the pay-per-go transport systems like Car2Go Service, one of several that are turning transport on its head. Touch the mobile screen map, identify the nearest car, that locks into your device, open up, key in the pin code and say hello to the computer’s interface and off you go. We know instantly – no need for the economist and the futurist to point out – that this is a paradigm shift. We have just been part of something that is changing the world.
It makes us wish that the system would soon wipe out the traffic and congestion in cities and urban areas, leaving us with a communal network of cars-for-all to use, constantly in circulation, with no fixed costs attached. Dash through the traffic in the tiny Smart vehicle kindly supplied by Daimler-Benz, and halt it at your whim, ready to park without payment in the middle of the restricted access of historic centres. Simply turn the engine off, and transmit the trip data to central control, then walk away, a satisfied customer of the disownership economy.