What we really want is access....
A friend of mine recently came over to borrow my snowshoes, and I was happy to oblige since right now I'm too busy at work to head up to the mountains and he could use them more than I could right now. The snowshoes get used, maybe a little wear and tear but I know he's a good guy and will take care of them. This little transaction got me thinking as to what is the root of our current troubles both ecologically and economically (more on that in the next post) maybe misunderstanding the role of ownership in our thinking.
Our current economic model is based on the notion of being an "ownership society" in that the key is to drive consumption to ownership. This allows us to acquire more than we can use in a way that services cannot. This is even more the case today with manufacturing improvements increasing efficiency that we need to buy more to take in the additional production of the various manufacturing processes. Let me explain, if we lived in a simple services economy based on one to one services of things like medicine, legal advice, manicurists, cooks etc. At any time you have one person serving another at a time. Your services efficiency is pretty low, but then there are more people employed. This in effect was what the craft labor movement was.
Fast forward, now we have manufacturing technologies which enable one person to create goods for 10 people. You have in effect one person servicing 10. Before we had one person servicing another. So we have 9 people who need to find work, and they start making 9 different things servicing the other 9. So we now get 10 times more stuff. This proliferation of stuff, requires that it be picked up and in a consumer society we oblige and buy the stuff on credit. This massive leverage is what makes modern society such an amazing accomplishment, but also it's downfall. We now need 10 times more raw materials to accomplish the same thing, and we produce 10 times the carbon and waste to produce those goods. We manage to be 10 times ahead of ourselves in stuff and waste.
So the question remains, why do we want this 10 times more stuff. And a lot of it really does benefit our lives. Few people will argue that light bulbs have not changed the way we live. I think part of it deals with access and perceived security. Now we may have 10 times more stuff, but what we still have is the same amount of time. So that means that we may have 9 times too much stuff than there is time.
So more waste, and more unused goods. Again, why? The big reason I think is access, people like the security of having things accessible. It gives one a sense of security, it also gives one a sense of accomplishment, you can see stuff, it's like your domain. Ownership is Access, and if everyone has the same stuff, everyone has access.
What if we could provide access without ownership. The obvious way is through rental models. We see this with zip car, which is awesome since most times our car just sits there. Sharing a car is great, until everyone needs one, and then there isn't enough around. So we encourage ownership for peak times. But most goods aren't that way.
So how about reducing the amount of ownership for items where people don't need it all the same time? Like snowshoes for instance. If stuff is raw materials and waste, then let's get more efficient, let's make sure our stuff gets used more often. The solution we already know it is fractional ownership, we see this in time shares. How about if we time shared our stuff.
Can we use technology to let us know what stuff we have, is it being used and where it is. I think we can. Let's create stuff circles where we list what we have that we are willing to share. Books are easy, tools are easy, technology is generally easy and we post it in a place where our friends can see them and request them when they need it and you can do the same.
So imagine a web spreadsheet like Google docs:
Who has it.
12 Mar 08
Post everything that you are willing to share, and ask your friends to the same. Bet you'll find out you spend less, you find out who your good friends are, and you save money which you can spend on a massage, a great dinner or something else.
Good candidates for my stuff circle would include my scanner (maybe use once a month), backpacking backpack, certain tools, certain cooking supplies, lots of books and CDs. You choose what you can part with and won't be stuck without. If it's all about access, this is access without ownership.
Note: I know the reasoning on economics and the concept are not well thought out, but wanted to get it out there.