Thoughts On The Sharing Economy
A few months ago, I encountered a phrase I’d never heard before, “The Sharing Economy”. I’d stumbled across a YouTube Vlogger, Jermaine Ellis, who leads a life working (and living) in The Sharing Economy, delivering food, running errands around the city and sleeping in communal accomodation. I find these videos strangely compelling - there’s something liberating about a guy making his way through life with no pre-determined plan, no strings attached, leveraging new technologies to stay ahead of the rat-race.
As I understand it, The Sharing Economy captures the wave of new businesses that share the resources of the general public, to offer services at very affordable prices. The most obvious example is AirB&B, where a member of the public can rent their unused bedroom or property as a short-term holiday home. This helps the property owner gain an income on otherwise unused space, whilst offering holiday makers a significantly cheaper accomodation option, compared to expensive corporate hotels. Other examples are food delivery services like Uber Eats and Deliveroo, cyclists for whom are ten-a-penny in Edinburgh City Centre.
I recently visited London, a city known for its expense and high cost of living. Staying only for a weekend, I travelled light with a backpack and small suitcase of clothes, though I didn’t much fancy wheeling my case around for 12 hours on the final day. As most people do, I turned to Google for options - could I leave my bag at London Kings Cross for the day? Of course, there are baggage storage options at Kings Cross, but I suspected the storage price would equate to the cost of the bag contents. Instead, I found another option, a startup called CityStasher, promising secure (insured) storage options at very affordable prices. I was able to leave my case at a NISA Convenience Store, 5 minutes from Euston Station, for a mere £6. Brilliant.
After positive experiences with AirB&B, CityStasher and Uber, I’ve observed a shift in my thinking. I’ve traditionally been quite risk averse, sticking with “what I know” and using the “safer” corporate options - if you have a problem at a major hotel chain, you complain at the desk and it gets fixed, right? It feels like those guarantees aren’t afforded if you’re staying in the spare room of a “stranger”. In reality, I’ve come to realise how these larger chains are actually just branded buildings, often staffed by employees who aren’t getting the fair treatment they deserve.
Those trading in The Sharing Economy live and die by the service they give, and the reviews they subsquently receive from users. In return for providing a good service, people can pick their own workings hours, float between whichever platform offers them the best deal and generally exercise more control over their lives. That feels like a win for everyone.
Putting aside the economics, I think there’s a second, much more important implication of The Sharing Economy; it encourages us to trust people.
I trusted the London Convenience Store to look after my bag. I trusted the property owner in Portugal to meet with the key to his apartment for the weekend. So far, I haven’t been let down by any of the people I’ve met. Infact, I’ve been amazed at the quality of service and generosity I’ve received. At a time when the news is typically bleak, when common sense seems scarce and fear-mongering is rife, I’m buoyed by the lovely people I’ve met and sense of community being forged.
I, for one, intend to double-down on the sharing economy, cutting out the middle-man and have more meaningful interactions with real people.