It is, it seems, becoming de rigeur to throw mud at the fledgling sharing economy. But not only are the dirt slingers missing the target, they've missed the point altogether. It's time to get a grip.
Lawbreakers, liars, thieves; facilitators of orgies, anti-social behaviour and exploiters of human rights…
Anyone would think the sharing economy was promoting sex trafficking. In recent weeks, this socio-economic ecosystem built around the sharing of human and physical resources (yes that's the actual definition for those who are confused) has come under unwarranted attack.
So let's set a few facts straight: the founders of Airbnb, Uber and the othern 8,000sharing economy initiatives around the world aren't building businesses based on law-breaking and tax evasion, they're responding to a changing landscape where people no longer need to rely on big business for products and services. Now, citizens can do it for themselves. Like it or not, people are choosing to trade with other people. Traditional businesses can either fly the flag for the status quo and go down with it, or, they can be smart about it and enable this new way of thinking, living and doing sustainable business. Those who do will survive and thrive.
The very notion that Airbnb are encouraging people to break the law and evade tax is nonsense. To the contrary, the company has offered to work with authorities to find ways of collecting and remitting taxes. Let's remember, Rome really wasn't built in a day and neither will the sharing economy be.
But the mud slinging doesn't stop there. Critics claim, that renting out a spare room isn't "sharing", it's just lining the pockets of newfound billionaires. Again, to clarify – we're talking about shared use of a resource; whether money is involved in the equation or not is irrelevant in the context of whether something qualifies as resource-sharing.
The sharing economy is a hybrid economy where there are a whole range of currencies. Sometimes goods are exchanged for other goods, sometimes alternative currencies are used, sometimes people pay (yes, with real cash) sometimes people choose just to freely share what they have.
Sharing means different things to different people. That's why it's called sharing – that's the beauty of it. In fact there's a whole spectrum of different kinds of sharing.
So, just for the record, here's a (non-exhaustive) list of different types of sharing: lending, borrowing, swapping, bartering, exchanging, buying pre-loved goods (sharing the lifecycle of the product), recycling, re-using, repairing, freecycling, upcycling, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, collaborative consumption, collective purchasing, shared ownership, shared value, co-operatives, co-creation, redistribution, renting, peer-to-peer, pay-as-you-use, micro-financing, micro-entrepreneurship, social media, open source, open data, user-generated content …
That there's a danger that the sharing economy could be hijacked by those hell-bent on protecting self-interest, greed and maintaining inequality, I wouldn't dispute. But lets allow it to learn to walk before we try to run it over.
Although Airbnb and Uber have been the targets of most of the sharing economy tirades, they're not representative of this new sector. The problem is that the critics don't understand what the sharing economy actually is or indeed, what it stands for. Perhaps if they took the time to find out they'd realise that it might be worth slinging the mud at real villains.
The value-driven sharing economy at its core, stands for access for all, (think Fareshare who divert perfectly edible food from landfill to those living in food poverty) community, (think Macmillan Cancer Support whose project TeamUp built by It's All Share in collaboration with Macmillan Cancer Support connects local micro-volunteers to run errands for people in the community who are living with cancer) and sustainability (think Liftshare whose ridesharing service saves an estimated 110,000 tonnes of CO2 a year or M&S's Shwopping campaign that diverts tonnes of clothing from landfill). All considered – surely there are greater evils to hurl abuse at than that?
Any systemic change is going to hurt. In the short term there will be some casualties, but in the long term there'll be societal gain on a massive scale. A win-win system takes time and work to build.
Sex sells and although mud wrestling the advocates may seem sexier than nurturing the sharing economy, where will that take us? Absolutely nowhere. There's nothing sexy about that.
The content from this blog was originally posted by the Guardian.