Rampant consumerism is something we frequently address here at the Utopianist — it’s a pillar of American society most of us have come to at least tolerate. And though we may hear vague calls from the green movement asking us to ‘Buy Less, use less’, the vast majority continue buying and consuming away. We have to. It’s the default operating system; it’s how we obtain the goods and services we need to get by.
But it doesn’t have to be — there are enough options available that we could live perfectly fulfilling lives by (gasp) sharing stuff instead of buying it. The concept is awkwardly called ‘collaborative consumption’, and Shareable has a guide demonstrating how you can participate:
“It’s called collaborative consumption, (or the sharing economy) and it’s changing the way we work, play, and interact with each other. It’s fueled by the instant connection and communication of the internet, yet it’s manifesting itself in interesting ways offline too.
1. Remove all items from the box and assess
Sit down with yourself (or some friends) and talk about what you’ve got, what you need, and what you could live without. Take stock of what you’d be willing to share, rent, or give away. Write down all the things you really need to be productive/happy/connected. Then, cross out all the things that you want just to have them, and highlight all the things that involve a valuable experience. Now you have a list you can tackle through sharing.”
Shareable then goes on to curate an exhaustive list of services and websites that promote sharing instead of owning: BookMooch, car-sharing services, Couchsurfing.com, etc. By tapping all of these outlets, we can theoretically get by without actually buying much of anything at all (except food, I guess) — and by sharing everything.
Guess which other ideology besides ‘collaborative consumption’ advocates the sharing of everything? Evil, freedom-usurping communism! A key tenet of classical Marxism is that private property is abolished, and that everyone ends up being happier just sharing stuff amongst the community. Now, nobody can publicly endorse any element of the angry bearded man’s views out loud anymore, but movements like this are pretty much predicated on the idea that we’d be better off if we did away with ownership in general.
There’s clearly a benefit to wrenching yourself out of the demanding cycle of created wants that marketers try to keep us lodged in — if we’re not consumed with the desire to own stuff, we can spend our time, you know, doing more stuff. And the business world knows this.
Which is why it’s interesting to see the recent pro-business sharing-is-great trend try to make its case in a consumerist context: Pundits exclaim how great and innovative companies like Netflix are, that make a profit while encouraging you to own less, and how Zipcar and co. will lead to a world of less stuff. That’s the entire basis of a book by Lisa Gansky, The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing. She argues that in the future, everyone will rent stuff instead of buying it, and that access will be more important than ownership.
In other words, we’re going to be perfectly happy sharing everything, so as long as someone’s making a profit off of it — it’s American consumerist communism! Snark aside, the ‘collaborative consumerism’ encouraged by Shareable is founded on laudable principles and, despite desperately needing a less cumbersome name, is about as much of a modern-day utopian movement as you’ll find. That’s right: you can live with communist values in consumerist America right now — and perhaps be all the happier for it.