Can renting cars by the hour and crashing in strangers’ spare bedrooms really change the economy?
My latest cover story in the Washington City Paper allowed me to call on a couple of years of personal experiences as a “collaborative consumer.” I also got to talk to other people using D.C.’s car and bike shares, Airbnb and eatFeastly hosts, as well as a bunch of pundits who say the burgeoning “sharing economy” is ushering in big changes in the way we live.
Here’s an excerpt from the story:
Sharing enthusiasts see a future with less pollution, inefficiency, and injustice—not to mention fewer cars. But sharing services aren’t always green (you can, after all, share a private jet). They seem more likely—not less—to accentuate class differences and perpetuate the same bad behavior on commercial, labor, and environmental fronts that everything that came before them did. And while sharing depends on high-tech social media and smartphone apps, in many ways the collaborative world harkens back to the past: to barter systems; the hyper-localism of preautomobile societies; and the almost small-town importance of reputation, which will increasingly follow us around as “data exhaust” that could replace the credit rating. Still, the changes afoot are propelled by decidedly 21st century realities: population growth, booming cities, rising costs, and shrinking personal space.