Remember “timeshares” at beach resorts or other tourist destinations?... They probably peaked in popularity around the mid-nineties, when travelling around the world was slowly starting to become more common, though not as common as it is today; and when the current possibilities for “shared economies” – thanks to smartphones and the Internet – were still unthinkable. Many of us remember timeshares with a vague sense of disdain rather than fondness (were they a rip-off or a legitimately good idea?), but that’s beside the point. Regardless if owning a “timeshare” contract made financial sense back then or not, the point is that they were probably a first step in the culture of “share economies”.
Share economies are now best represented by brands we all know: Uber, Airbnb, etc. The point of share economies is that, in an increasingly interconnected world with more Internet and declining resources, we don’t need to own everything we use, from cars to houses – or even the things we do own can be put up for availability to others, while we are not using them. Resources can be much better used when instead of owning everything, it is free for use to others while we are not spending time with it; especially as populations grow and our spaces and resources become tighter.
I lived for a year and a half in Mexico City and didn’t even consider owning my own car: for a single woman who moved and travelled by herself, it didn’t make sense to own a car when a combination of public transport and Uber covered all my needs. Of course, that public transport is cheaper than owning a car is obvious. What wasn’t obvious was that the second part of that equation – Uber or a similar sharing app – makes almost as much financial sense as owning a car, at least for someone who still doesn’t have children to move around the city. Adding up car maintenance, car insurance, gas, taxes and parking, moving about in cars that I didn’t own was not only convenient but perhaps even cheaper.
A similar thing happened with Airbnb: not only did timeshares quickly become obsolete, but the App and the idea opened up the possibility of a much more affordable “owning for renting”, or even putting up (parts or the whole of) our own property for the use of strangers while we are away, for profit. The question is: might this be sustainable in the future?...
These times especially, we are seeing that extremely unexpected conditions can appear onstage and upend the established economies. Worldwide sanitary concerns can – and do – force us to rethink our shared spaces and things. A similar thing could happen with sudden and acute food scarcity, a more serious environmental crisis (which many experts believe is undoubtedly coming soon), new security concerns, or even the distant but real threat of a war. Perhaps then we might see the backlash or the retreat into the non-share ways of economies. But for now, in the face of increasing population numbers and resource scarcity, it still appears that, as simple as some childish school lesson, “sharing makes (economic) sense”.