The Paradox of Collaborative Consumption

Earlier this month, in the span of a few days, I read a book review in The New York Times titled, "Tribal Lessons" and a piece in The Wall Street Journal titled, "Don't Talk to Strangers: Unless You Plan to Share Your Mac-and-Cheese."

The WSJ article was about the startup world trend of collaborative consumptioncompanies that facilitate the sharing of resources through specialized digital marketplaces. "AirBnB for" is the token phrase for these types of firms. And they're cropping up across verticals, from companies that help people share wardrobes to upstarts that help people share meals.

I've been a fan of this rising startup trend, but it struck me in reading The NY Times piece about pre-Industrial societies that 'collaborative consumption' may be less revolutionary than Westerners make out. Here's a key quotation from the piece:

...in the arenas of child-rearing, the treatment of the elderly and dispute resolution, Diamond [the book's author] argues that traditional societies have much to teach us.

We live in codified, impersonal ­societies. They live in uncodified but more personal societies...

We sit around subway cars lost in our thoughts and smartphones. But people in traditional societies converse constantly, learning from one another and sharing.

'Collaborative consumption' is billed an innovation of our digital age, when perhaps, it's just a reversion to something totally fundamental. When seen from the vantage point of a winner-takes-all neo-liberal society, the sharing economy is deemed new and revolutionary, almost shockingly so as the WSJ points out with shared child-rearing concepts. From an ancestral perspective, shared economics may be the most basic of human nature.

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