It is an innovative and alternative economic model which allows sharing and collaboration. From the euphemism “file-sharing”, distributing or providing access to music and films to digital media. Now the “sharing economy”, which have brought immense attention in recent years.
The system initiated intense controversy as advocates claim it is bringing openness, opportunity or even reshaping our society. Critics also argue it is intensifying inequality, degrading labor, and commodifying daily life. As Tom Slee argues in the book, What’s Yours it Mine, it is a digitized mechanism which favors creative violation of regulations and erodes public space. We wonder the uniqueness of the sector and how the claims of proponents and critics assemble. The question is, what exactly is being shared now, and in whose favor? In the book, Slee does not simply criticize the system, instead, he shows his sympathy within the powerful attraction of “sharing” as a moral precept and a feasible approach for humanitarian, equalness and social movement. He wants to bring awareness to the public about how the “sharing” idea is reduced to simple market exchange and how that can affect our lives.
Slee carefully works out numerous statistics of the companies and come up with strong arguments and addresses them. This approach is one of the main strength of the book. After reading the book, readers get a basic understanding of the ideology behind the sharing economy and why they are flawed. The book starts off with an overview of the sharing economy and then discusses the limitations and problems with the sharing economy by considering some well-known companies that are directing or leading the system such as Airbnb, TaskRabbit, and Uber. Specifically, their terms of profitability, payment issues, and working conditions.
Slee has done a commendable job at exposing the realities of the sharing economy allowing the unregulated free market to consolidate into different aspects of our lives. Corporations in the market are no doubt prospering while “creating riskier and more precarious forms of low-paid work.” Companies like Uber identify their workers as “independent contractors”, such contractual temporary work significantly reduces the expenditure for them. Workers are exploited with no insurance, health care or compensation coverage. Slee blames this on “the companies themselves, and with the financial interests using these companies to drive a broader agenda of deregulation in search of private wealth.” Similarly to how Dean Baker, an economist explains, the sharing economy is “largely based on evading regulations and breaking the law”. The second part of the book critics on broader themes of the sharing economy, firstly the valuable section on reputation systems. This function does not provide a fair signal of quality.
As Slee mentions, “it is a way to enforce ’emotional labor’; service providers are compelled to manage their feelings and present the face that the platform demands”. The rating system operates as a control system that punishes workers based on the customers’ preference, or their attitude. Furthermore, workers can be dismissed based on the rating system arbitrarily, without appealing to common labor procedures. Towards the end of the book, Slee explains how he believes sharing is a fine idea, but companies cunningly manipulate and misuse the system. The system acts as a mode of exchange that are inspired and promoted in interests such as avoiding government regulations, and profit making. Otherwise, the sharing economy with the values of reciprocity or trust, and foster a more peaceful society. The book puts together a detailed review of the sharing economy.
However, it has its weaknesses. Slee focuses on the limitations of the sharing economy, and suggests a kind of “doomed” opinion which make reader question whether the writer is being too judgmental and doubtful on the topic. Slee is so confirmative that the sharing economy will eventually fail due to the commercial basis manipulation of the big companies. He apparently thinks that failing is inevitable, nothing can be changed to save the industry from its capitalist foundation. In my opinion, the system is lacking altruistic behaviour as it should in the original model.
For example a worker-centric model of it could be viable. The sharing economy is not as doomed as Slee believes. If all companies act more towards a platform, attune to individual needs and wants, the initial idea of sharing can be achieved. New technology promotes the sharing economy. Individuals, groups, and institutions can exchange and share goods, places and services at ease. This transformation is exactly the promise of the early idealism of the sharing economy which we all acknowledge. The internet, crowdsourcing, and big data give us powerful basis for building equality, and sustainability. Now our mission is to apply that power.
As Slee says, “if technologists were prepared to accept that technology can play a helpful but secondary role in social movements, we might get somewhere”. We need to be ready for the social movements, and prepared to utilize technology to envision a better world. Slee wrote the book focusing on the downside of the system. It is undoubtedly true that the sharing economy might be at its darkest times. However, the critics are too cynical. With this kind of attitude, we could never have imagined that new technology and platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook and other social networking sites would create a community, socialize ourselves, and actually harmonize the society. Similarly, there is potential in the sharing sector for peer-to-peer connections and sustainability.
The emergence of the sharing economy that share products and services can be an infrastructure where people are less dependent on employers and more able to personalize their jobs according to their preference. We are at a critical crossroad where strengthening worker-orientation, fairness, and human connections can make a huge difference in realizing the potential of the sharing economy. The amount of economic value generated by the system may be uncertain, but it is imperative that it flows equally to all participants.
After all, that is what we commonly call sharing.