When I hosted a live chat with Annie Leonard of the Story of Broke, I brought up the topic of collaborative consumption. "Oh" she said, with a friendly yet mocking smile "you mean old-fashioned sharing?" (I may be paraphrasing a little.)
She was, of course, right. While bloggers and "futurists" (I've never quite understood what that is) may enthuse about the new paradigm of services over stuff, and access over ownership, the idea of sharing our goods and resources to make best use of them is as old as time. But while some aspects of the collaborative consumption movement—like my own informal neighborhood tool share program, for example—are pretty much sharing as it always was (albeit enabled by technological tools like email listservs and websites), there are also more entrepreneurial/self-interested forms of sharing.From Airbnb's informal hospitality network to peer-to-peer car sharing services, many people are realizing that they can not just share their things, but they can make money doing it too.
Rob Baedeker, however, has taken this idea to extremes—renting out his trailer, an air mattress, a guitar, a blender, and even his dog—and he's making some serious cash in the process. Baedeker laid out his experiences as a "rentrepreneur" in Newsweek Magazine:
The next day I get an email from a woman named Jude Bell. “What a brilliant idea? [sic]” she writes. She is a kind-sounding 60-year-old financial analyst working at UC Berkeley. She says she “can’t get enough of dogs” and that her landlord won’t let her have one. It is at this moment I realize I am a true genius: I’ve just discovered a way for people to pay me to walk my dog.
I'm sure there will be some habituated sharers who will turn their nose up at such moneymaking attitudes but, I think, they are missing the point. For those folks who have stuff they want to share, but don't need to make money from, there's Freecycle, neighborhood tool shares and many other options for cash-free collaboration. But if we can also find ways for ordinary folks to make and save money by sharing, bypass the dinosaur economy in the process, and reduce the amount of "stuff" each of us needs, then sharing will take off like wildfire, the real economy can thrive, and our beleaguered natural systems may catch a break too.
The good news is that Baedeker's experiences seem to have captured the popular imagination. Here he is talking on CNN about renting his dog.
Sharing is caring, but it is also about looking after number one.