During the 20-teens, pre-Covid, I got terribly excited about “The Sharing Economy”. My trusty trend-forecaster newsletter contacts did, too - forever sending little examples of apps for sharing anything from leftover food to power tools to skills. My response was always the same - wow! Great idea! Must try it out. Then I’d look at the app, or the website and remember that I live in Bruchköbel, a German town in rural Hessen with 20,000 inhabitants who are unlikely to be early adopters of such gizmos. Why not? Well, I’ll come to that, but the clue is in the photos above.
There’s an article about the death of the Sharing Economy in Fast Company. Or at least what we all got excited about ten or fifteen years back. The article goes through the history of the idea - how tech put us on the path away from ownership and towards collective peer-to-peer good. Looking back, some of the orignal Sharing Economy players are still going strong - from Airbnb to Uber. And I think the food sharing app OLIO is doing OK, too, having gone into toys, toiletries, tupperware and stuff. Ditto, Peerby - although the nearest neighbourhood I could find is in Holland.
But generally, the article concludes that the sharing power drills with neighbours concept hasn’t really taken off. While people like the idea in theory (and of course, it ticks a few virtue-signalling boxes), in the end they can’t be a**ed because for a few quid more you could get the thing delivered from Amazon. Many of the original Sharing Economy players that have survived have - rather like ebay - started off peer-to-peer then ended up becoming more and more dominated by companies and corporates rather than private individuals.
I still get those newsletters, though - and here’s a recent-ish sharing economy thing that’s trying to make fashion more sustainable with its “community of expert seamstresses” - Sojo. And looking at the website, I was reminded the following:
- someone in the Bruchköbel Facebook Forum offering a box of limes and lemons to whoever was first to come and collect
- a hand-written sign on a garden gate to say that they had fresh eggs to give away today
- walking past the two local tailors/seamstresses that are practically next door to each other (and I am sure there are one or two others in the town)
And I wonder - who needs the diversion, the middleman, the app? Both from a point of view of fiddliness and inconvenience, but also something more fundamental when it comes to “local” and “community.” I’ve had hotel owners requesting me to please, please book direct rather than through one of the big booking websites. It’s to do with money, of course, but also maintaining individuality and integrity.
I can understand the reluctance of many small local businesses to get caught up on these global platforms - in the same way that I won’t be touting my wares on Fiverr.