What’s Mine is Yours

Review of What’s Mine is Yours – How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live, by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers

I need to declare an interest upfront,  in that I know and have enjoyed working with Rachel Botsman, one of the co-authors of this book. Rachel is a graduate of Oxford and Harvard universites has worked for President Clinton and as a successful management consultant. But no bias on my part – this is an interesting, engaging and important book!

What’s Mine is Yours posits that we are at a tipping point in a new way of living – based on sharing, bartering and helping each other out. This is partly driven by rejection on the part of newer generations towards the excesses in consumption of their Baby Boomer parents, partly by a desire to husband our earthly resources better, partly by increasingly straitened economic circumstances for many, and all of this facilitated by technology and new connectedness that we enjoy now through social networking and mobile communications.

The book is written in an involving anecdotal style, using real stories and experiences to bring the concepts alive. Botsman and Rogers have interviewed a number of key entrepreneurs and opinion formers. It sets up the context for collaborative consumption and explains the socio-demographic and psychological forces that have encouraged the desire to share instead of own, to be more “we” and less “me”. There are plentiful examples to demonstrate what collaborative consumption is, how it has arisen and the many forms it takes. Finally the authors explore how this phenomenon will further evolve and its likely long term impact.

I’ve always been a bit of an early adopter, so several of the emerging organisations and companies practising collaborative consumption were already known to me: I’ve rented a van from StreetCar; rented out my own car several times to strangers through Whipcar; I’m in the process of negotiating a house swap in Australia; I’ve acquired  jars for jam-making via Freecycle and given away furniture through Freecycle and Street Bank; I regularly rent DVDs through Lovefilm and have bought and sold on eBay. I’m also a co-founder of a website dedicated to living sustainably and creatively by making and mending things rather than buying and binning. All that may indicate I’m heavily pre-disposed towards the concept of collaborative consumption, but  as someone who has been an Olympic standard conspicuous consumer and big spender in my time, I think it says more that  if people like me are getting into this, then Botsman and Rogers have identifed a very real element of the zeitgeist and we are going to see a lot more examples of collaborative consumption before long.

Not only is it happening: it also makes a lot of sense. To use an example from the book, when doing a spot of DIY we want the hole not the drill (apparently the average usage of an electric drill is 12 minutes in its entire lifetime!). You want to see the film – not collect plastic boxes to sit idle on your shelf. It’s about access not ownership.

But collaborative consumption is about more than accessing ‘things’ – it’s also about sharing and accessing services and skills. Bartering requires a “double coincidence of wants” a lawyer with a leaking tap might normally struggle to find a plumber in need of legal advice but the Internet has dramatically changed that. Apparently there are already around 500 online barter exchanges in the Americas, including Bartercard with more than 75,000 members across nine countries who exchanged over $2 billion of goods and services though its network in 2009.

Obviously a pre-requisite of collaborative consumption is trust. One of the theses Botsman and Rogers put forward is that  to establish trust we will increasingly rely on our personal reputation capital. At first this sent a chill up my spine – another excuse for people to monitor and spy on my activity online? But already we are all subject to credit checks, like it or not, so checks on our reliability and trustworthiness are probably an inevitable consequence and facilitator of collaborative consumption. This is already operating extensively in peer ratings – as done by the self policing system on eBay – but it does also raise a concern that one’s reputation could be blown by a spiteful comment from an individual – as some hoteliers have found with abusers of Trip Advisor. It means we’ll all need to be vigilant and active in developing and protecting our ‘reputational bank accounts’.

This is a very well researched and thought-provoking book, packed full of entertaining examples and written in a very accessible and conversational story-telling style. You can buy it on Amazon What’s Mine Is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live

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