10 Sep Sharing is Caring: The Cultural Shift Away from Ownership
We all heard the phrase “sharing is caring” while growing up, ingrained in our heads by adults in an effort to promote positive, unselfish interaction between playmates. We love those short, catchy one liners that rhyme, don’t we? But the funny thing is that our culture as a whole reflects a far different ideal: individual ownership equals success. The American Dream was built upon this idea, even. Everyone can prove their success by how much they own, be it land, a house, a car, or any other trappings of American prosperity…or so the story goes.
But lately, the American Dream is waking up. The reality is that these values no longer hold the lure that they used to. Nowadays, there is a shift away from individual ownership to a culture of sharing. It’s widely said that it’s the Millennial generation at the forefront of this cultural change, and I really can’t argue with that. The 16-34 age demographic faces an unstable economy that is only recently finding its Zen, $1 trillion dollars in student debt, and high rates of unemployment. We (I’ll use that pronoun since I’m writing as a 26 year old) are shying away from big purchases – cars and homes mainly – that used to be the benchmarks of economic strength and recovery. But any large scale cultural shift doesn’t just effect the generation it stems from; it effects everyone since it changes the core ideals and outcomes of our economic progress.
[quote float=”default”]Growing up in the ‘burbs was part of the reason driving was so central to Baby Boomers’ lives. Car keys meant freedom. To city dwellers, they mean struggling to find an empty parking spot. – Jordan Weissmann, The Atlantic[/quote]
Sharing vs. Ownership
A lot of this movement away from ownership to sharing has to do with a one big guilty party: technology. We now have access to anything we want, whenever and wherever we want it right at our fingertips, literally. Scarcity has become scarce. This has affected the declining rates of car and home purchases, along with the very idea of ownership in all facets. Some examples:
- Instead of buying a car, you use the light rail or car sharing service like ZipCar where you can rent a car by the hour all via a mobile app.
- Instead of purchasing individual albums, you sign up for a streaming service (Spotify, Pandora) and you can access almost any song, anywhere you want.
- Instead of buying a hard copy of a DVD, you stream it via multiple online services on multiple devices – Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc, etc.
- Instead of buying a home, you choose to live in a rental or small townhome/condo in an urban area where you can walk to amenities and be more connected to community.
- Instead of solely paying your apartment or house mortgage on your own, you open up your extra space to tourist and visitors via AirBnB.com or VRob.com in order to help make extra income.
- Instead of renting an office, you find a co-working space like Co+Hoots or share space with other workers in local coffee shops (Lux, Songbird, Lola anyone?)
Where All of This is Coming From
Even though I’ve mentioned some core causes, I’m not interested in relaying them all since we could credit it to a cocktail of so many ingredients – bad economy, debt, technology, on and on. What’s more interesting–and I think more useful–is looking at the values that are shaping the change. It’s not only how we buy that has changed; it’s why we buy. A purchase is not really for the thing itself anymore – it’s what we do with our choices, how they connect us to others, and how they reflect our higher visions for ourselves. Let’s look at the 3 main values that are guiding our decisions in 2013:
[quote style=”default”]Young people prize access over ownership. –Sheryl Connelly, head of consumer trends at Ford[/quote]
I think this quote so aptly sums up the aspect of usefulness that people are looking for today. Technology, especially, creates a usefulness we haven’t experienced before. Want to rent a movie to watch tonight? Look up the closest Redbox to your location, reserve the exact movie you want, and go pick it up right away. Don’t want to own a car but still need to get somewhere? Reserve a car with a couple of taps of the finger on your mobile app and your keys will be ready for you. Useful products that are well designed to the needs of the consumer are winning out over past ownership trends.
[quote float=”right”]…the joy of having something isn’t in the having, but in the sharing. -Josh Allan Dykstra, FastCompany[/quote]Technology is useful, sure, but it can also be isolating. Instead of the normal face to face meetings we used to have, we’ll text, chat, Skype, or call. Granted, this has allowed us to have a reach far past our geographic location, but it does seem a little lonely at times, wouldn’t you say? The cure for loneliness is connection. Technology isolates but it can also re-connect us- through social media, community outlets like this site here, and more. It give us the opportunity to find what we want, when we want it, and go out into the real world with informed choices. More and more, people are opting to take the public bus rather than ride in a car on their own. They are supporting local restaurants and shops so to circulate money to the community they are a part of. They’re using event meetup groups to find like-minded individuals. It’s a human instinct to search out connection by any means possible, and this is a leading trait in the purchases people now make, be it a mobile app or a lifestyle choice.
I think it’s pretty apparent that the all the top, successful companies today strive to build their products and services around a higher ideal. Maybe that ideal is simple – ‘be genuinely better,’ ’empower others,’ or ‘bring people’s ideas to life.’ Whatever it is, it propels the business forward to create products and services that reflect the ideal. I’ve seen this first hand with my design & marketing clients. The successful business owners are wholly invested in a certain ideal that is aligned within their organization from the top down. The ones that fall flat really haven’t taken the time to hone the intentions they want to share with their customers.
As consumers, we love this. We love well thought out, well designed, and well executed ideas that cater to us on a personal level. And we especially love when that idea, product, or service reflects who we want to be. An iPhone shows we’re in tune and tech-advanced. The use of public transportation reflects our environmentally friendly perspective. The choice to rent an apartment in a revitalized downtown shows our desire to be connected to a thriving community and part of the change. You aren’t just what you eat; you are what you buy.
The Biggest Investment of Them All
The biggest investment now isn’t in things – it’s in ourselves. It’s in our choices on where to live, how to travel, how to connect, how to live. No wonder many downtowns are being revitalized, and Millennials are making choices to live and work in urban areas. The cost of living and traveling from the suburbs is just far too high to add on to increasing debt and high gas prices. But it’s more than just money – it’s about the 3 values listed above. For many, these values are perfectly exemplified in an urban area like Downtown Phoenix, and people are flocking to share in the lifestyle.
The American Dream of owning your own piece of land, purchasing a nice car, and being an individual island of self-sufficiency is just not a viable option for many anymore, nor a desirable one. People want the usefulness of amenities within close walking distance. They want the connection of being near to friends, local businesses, and a thriving community. And lastly, they want their lifestyle to fit into a higher vision for themselves that reflects their core values. Maybe for you this doesn’t land you in Downtown Phoenix, but from what I can see living here, these are the values that are propelling the growth of community in our evolving, urban, and reborn city.