The Gold Rush in the 1800

What it left was ghost towns, broken dreams, and some of the gold diggers – really, really rich.

The analogy of the collaborative economy to the gold rush might be flawed but it is an interesting one to understand some of the hopes, dreams, and worries of all those close to and within the field.

Ouisharefest, 2016, by the very end, Friday afternoon: Drained brains and happy people. In the midst: ShareNL hosting a workshop that brought together very different perspectives on this gold rush. Those of practitioners but also those that take an observers seat – the researchers. While the collaborative economy gold rush might actually be over, leaving many disenchanted and others richer than ever behind, research has just begun to dig and to dig deep. And while technological developments are fast, research is inherently slow.

Two different paces that clash in one workshop, just to ask the question: What are the gold nuggets that we keep, that we craft into jewelry to last forever? Smaller groups, mixing researchers and practitioners, split up to discuss these questions more deeply. Taking a slow moment to reflect on three days of enthusiasm and criticism, of energy and exhaustion. Some interesting points were raised.

One – Ouisharefest and the broader sharing economy ecosystem often seem like this bubble, where everybody understands each other and apparently strives for the same goals. But when we look more closely, we see not only one big bubble but many small environments, systems, platforms. We are asking ourselves how much hot air fills up these collaborative bubbles, how much of our enthusiasm is just empty words that have no match in reality. Someone brings up the Gartner hype cycle. Before a product or an innovation is fully established and matured, it is first hyped but very quickly, the hype is replaced by disillusionment. Are we on the downward slope or even in the valley of disillusionment? Let’s pop some bubbles, get some air, and take a breath. Which leads me to point two.

Two – Some aspects, gold nuggets, we discovered during the workshop touch upon our deepest values. While the world of fast technological development still likes to portray the sharing economy as the next big thing, this golden trophy to strive for, to find the next tech unicorn, get rich, and never come back (aka the gold rush), research in diverse fields is suggesting that human exploitation of possibilities is saturating. That we have reached a tipping point, from which we need to de-grow, to re-localize, and to re-connect. Luckily, the sharing economy offers us the mindset and the values that are required for this endeavor. Diverse and inclusionary communities that are connected by a strong sense of belonging can enable us to live more self-sufficiently, to be well, while keeping in mind the ties to global developments. For this to happen, we need to develop a language that enables citizens to partake in the movement, to understand it, and to bring it to the next level.  

Three – This point I’d like to phrase as enablers. Those tools that help us and support us to live according to the values that we have discovered matter the most. Some interesting jewels for the sharing economy are the result of the workshop. I am most intrigued by the platform of platforms, a human super-brain, that connects and relates localized sharing activities of all forms and gives us a key resource: knowledge created by the crowd. With this knowledge, a central organizing unit might become redundant, but we can create and strive in our sharing ecosystems. The “superplatform” could enable us to relate human, real world experiences to technological developments. It could also create a ripple effect within the sharing community and beyond, insinuating the values we discovered to be key.

But the superplatform of its own happens to be of little value without enhancing circumstances. The challenge for public policy at this point is to create a political environment that fosters the positive opportunities we see in the sharing economy. A basic income is a promising tool to achieve this. If the basic income lives up to the hopes of its proponents it could unleash the creative potential of particularly those that cannot be part of the sharing movement because their daily struggles keep them busy. Research can nurture this process with knowledge, expertise and critical reflections.

 

The sharing economy and all developments related to it clearly have created a bubble. But we can acknowledge that it is a diverse one and learn from past experiences. Not all developments are at the same stage and not all stakeholders pursue the same goals, therefore it was helpful to create a workshop environment that brought together very different perspectives to have a deeper conversation about where we’re heading. And finally: We always look out for what’s new. But interestingly, our gold nuggets are really old. They represent ideals humanity has strived for for a long time.


By Paula Land

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