Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Mis-utopia of The Sharing Economy

As far as euphemisms go, one can't do much worse than calling something a Sharing Economy which is neither about sharing nor an economy in the usual sense of the term.

Consider the beginnings, all that excitement about technologies of connection and collaboration being available cheaply and at a global scale, which was thought to have the potential of unlocking the gift economy, those little things that we do for one another without necessarily expecting anything in return, and give it a scale and scope not otherwise possible. However, the Sharing Economy, as the idea was usurped, became exactly the opposite, a mad rush for monetising every little thing - a death sentence for 'sharing', that is. 

And, this is hardly an economy. An economy is a system, not just one for commission-for-everything deal making. It involves people, winners and losers, yes, but not one where only bookies stand to win at everyone else's cost. And, indeed, it involves relationships, even when it's all business. The man who drives me to airport most times I go overseas, Phil, tells me that he would never go over to Uber because his customers then wouldn't be able to ask specifically, as I do every time I call the cab service, for him. It is only an illusion to take an algorithm for an economy, and only arrogantly delusional can get away with that when talking to others.

Fast Company writes about the troubles of the sharing economy (see here), but this is to be expected. One is unlikely change the world by earning a commission of it. For such an endeavour, one needs to create winners - earning a share of the winnings is a far sweeter thing! The masks of rhetoric of Uber, Lyft and Handy are falling off far too quickly, and the army of the exploited they are creating on their wake, while undermining the systems of propriety and conduct along the way (not to mention the destruction of the gift economy), are becoming far too obvious. It is time to call its name - how about organised pimping - and save our cherished habit of sharing for some better endeavour.


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