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Sharing Economy: Sharing stuff or Fostering empathy

In 2008, together with two friends, I established the first coworking space in China named “Xindanwei”, the new work unit. The initial thoughts of building such as a space is to accumulate the creative synergy and collaboration effort among the 3S reunion – a regular meetup I helped to organize for the community of artists, technologist, hackers, designers and researchers. The philosophy behind it draws on sharism, a term used by Isaac Mao, a Chinese venture capitalist, blogger and Director of the Social Brain Foundation. Mao describes sharism ‘as a mental practice that anyone can try, a social-psychological attitude to transform a wide and isolated world into a super-smart Social Brain’(isaacmao.com). Essentially sharism develops its philosophical foundations from copyleft movements like the Free Software Foundation and Creative Commons. 
From my experience of the operating coworking space which is categorized under the buzzy concept of "Sharing Economy" these days, here are a few things which we struggled. 
  • We are serving users who are extremely uncertain, unstable, vulnerable and have an unknown future.They are extremely interesting people but very risky for the business. 
  • Many of these users have very little commitment or loyalty to the brand and community, let alone contributing proactively. 
  • Compromised quality of the collaboration output among these users because of the lack of skills, leadership and collaboration capacity.
  • Although community catalyst plays a very important role in fostering trust, rating and reviews are the key factors if the community wants to scale up.
Seven years fast forward, here we are stepping into the "sharing everything" society: we are going from A to B on Uber or dida 嘀嗒拼车, finding our ayi or the tutor for our kids through yousi 优思 or baixing 百姓, getting our company logo done through zhubajie 猪八戒 by some designer in a tier 3 city in Jiangxi province, receiving our courier from a neighbourhood mam&pap tea shop served also as Cainiao 菜鸟warehouse, dining with strangers in their living room through Huoli 伙力. We live and breathe social media, we read news and books recommended by our circle friends on wechat or goodread, internet technology has empowered everyone in this planet to supply something to one another, whether it is a bedroom, a lift to the airport, a gardening lesson, a drill, some advices how to pitch to investors, a parking space, a funding opportunity to support someone’ dream.
The Sharing Economy might be able to exist on some much smaller scale without technology like what we did at Xindanwei coworking space,but it is the increasingly more rapid advances in technology, like microelectronics, wireless connectivity, and cloud computing that are enabling, advancing, and expanding the power of the Sharing Economy to engage others, using the Internet of Things, in your neighborhood and around the globe. 
As the technology continues to advance, the Sharing Economy based startup continues to be the emerging area of business success and investment opportunity, I can’t help but coming up a few thoughts which are not necessary the downside of sharing economy, but the notion of exploring the true meaning and impact of sharing economy: 
- I believe Sharing economy not only contribute to economic growth, but the triple E (economy, environment, social equity), we need to measure the success with the time saved, happiness increased, trust built, reduced impact created. How do we do that?  
- Are we really sharing (gift economy) or are we merely paying to access other’s human and physical asset in a lower rate? What kind of role does the social elements (sharing) play here? This is still a heavily subsidized industry. i.e. If uber and all other taxi software stops subsidizing the cost of the ride, will the users and drivers still be looking into this?
- The essence of sharing economy, different from old economy, is about creates and spreads wealth throughout communities, and works to reverse the trend of increasing wealth concentration. Currently most of the sharing economy based company are VC funded. How do we change that?
- These companies are not yet sharing data with one another so we need to build our trust and reputation in every single platforms. In what kind of circumstance can we achieve this massive scale of “personal data sharing”?
- Companies such as Uber and Airbnb are still operating in grey areas and profit from not paying tax. Will they really be sustainable if they are running under the same regulation as others?
- We are happy about being able to deal with people who create access for their own personal resource without the old kind of agent. But aren’t the sharing economy based company new form of agent? How much can we trust them? What will be the risk being manipulated by these new intermediaries?
- Right now in China, the sharing economy based company are dominated by transactional relationship among users except for a few such as Zaihang 在行 and Huoli 伙力. What would be the potential to scale up social-focused model in a society where trust is deficit? 
- Sharing economy is about spreading power throughout communities through democratic and highly participatory governance structures, instead of concentrating power and granting control based on capital ownership. Would this be possible under the current “Big government, small society” structure in China?
The day is coming when everything and everyone that can be connected to the internet will be connected to the internet, deep in my heart, I am just wishing Sharing Economy would not just about building more transactions for stuff, transport, space, food, but about fostering empathy, care and deep human connections. 
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