People have this innate desire to be connected to other people. For the most part, we don’t like living alone, eating alone, traveling alone or even watching a movie alone. Since the beginning of time man has formed communities and shared resources. Whether or not this desire came from a need to be more efficient or a longing to be a part of something greater — collaboration was key.
Sometime at the end of the 20th century, most definitely in unison with the rise of the internet and industrialization, that desire was weakened. We had Orbitz, so we no longer needed the travel agent. We had IKEA, so we no longer needed the carpenter. We had bagged lettuce, so we no longer needed the farmer. It seemed like a blessing – an even more efficient way of living – except where’s the community in that?
Don’t get me wrong, I love technology, but buying from Orbitz, IKEA, and Whole Foods (yes, even Whole Foods) leaves me feeling disconnected. I’m a number in a computer system, not a person in a community. I want to know if the villa owner is a nice guy, where the wood from my new desk came from, or how far my tomatoes traveled to get to me. To me, and many others, these are important factors in making a purchasing decision. Yes, a cheap, plain desk is the simple solution to my need, but my reaction to that hand-whittled, intricate wooden desk is something I can’t order via IKEA. I want to be able to tell my children that the desk they’re using today, I bought 20 years ago from a man in Cedar Rapids, Iowa who only makes 10 desks per year using wood from his 90 acre backyard. I want to know that I helped support someone’s livelihood, and encouraged a man to continue the almost extinct hobby of whittling. I want to message him and ask him to carve my last name into the front drawer in cursive, so that his desk may one day become my family’s heirloom. Now that, that makes me feel like I’m part of a community; like I’m part of something greater.
Technology can do more for us, and it is. It’s taking us to the next level, a little level I like to call Collaborative Consumption. The personal contact we desire is now being combined with the efficiency technology affords us. It’s brilliant. Companies like Airbnb, Etsy, and (soon) Every Last Morsel, are providing a new marketplace experience. These companies are allowing us to connect with a real person during an electronic transaction. They’re giving us power by allowing us to make more informed decisions about what we buy. They’re giving us the opportunity to sell something we never knew we could, or just didn’t know how to. Some, like Zipcar, are even allowing us to share something we would normally need to own.
Collaborative Consumption is bringing community back to the marketplace. It’s exciting, personal and easy. If nothing else, it just feels better than opening that IKEA box to find 10 pieces of wood, 4 screws and a caveman drawing that’s meant to serve as instructions.
To learn more about Collaborative Consumption go to: www.collaborativeconsumption.com.