Collaborative Consumption: Shifting the Consumer Mindset
What if more consumers opted for access over ownership, use over possession, experience over “stuff”? Material wants and needs wouldn’t be in conflict with the responsibilities of a connected, environmentally conscious citizen.
Collaborative consumption is organized sharing, bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting and swapping through online and real-world communities. “What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption” explores this invigorating shift from an unfettered zeal for individual getting and spending toward a rediscovery of collective good.
The following is an excerpt from What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers (HarperCollins Publishers, 2010). Using examples from real entrepreneurs and revolutionaries around the world, Botsman and Rogers show how social technologies and economic and environmental imperatives are moving us into a new realm of consumerism, one marked by sustainability and shared access. This excerpt is from Chapter 1, “Enough Is Enough,” and Chapter 10, “The Evolution of Collaborative Consumption.”
There is something sad about all this stuff we work so hard to buy, can’t live with, but inevitably can’t bear to part with. In the same way that we focus on where to bury our waste, not where the waste came from, we also spend inordinate amounts of energy and money storing excess stuff rather than asking the hard truths of why we have so much in the first place.
The comedian George Carlin riffed on this in his classic stand-up routine about stuff: “The whole meaning of life has become trying to find a place to put your stuff ... Have you ever noticed how other people’s shit is shit and your stuff is stuff?” The controversial David Fincher movie Fight Club struck a painful chord with viewers who have ever experienced that addictive feeling of always wanting more, regardless of how much they have. Most people remember two lines from the movies: “The first rule of Fight Club — you do not talk about Fight Club” and “The things you own end up owning you.”
Tyler and Jack, the two main characters in the movie, seem to represent the stark choice that modern consumerism offers, best summarized by esteemed German social psychologist Erich Fromm as “To Have or to Be.” Jack (Ed Norton), is a stereotypical 30-year-old insomniac yuppie who keeps trying to fill his emotional voids and feel “complete” with the things he acquires. “I flip through catalogues and wonder what kind of dining set defines me as a person.”
But no matter what Jack buys, he’s never satisfied. That’s before he meets Tyler (Brad Pitt), who, throughout the movie, takes anticonsumerist jabs such as, “You are not the clothes you wear. You are not the contents of your wallet ... You are not your grande latte. You are not the car you drive. You are not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.” Tyler shows Jack that acquiring more and more stuff is a meaningless pursuit devoid of purpose and fulfillment.
“Goddamn it ... Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” The main theme of Fight Club runs counter to much of what consumer advertising preys on — we won’t find happiness or the meaning of our lives in the shopping mall or in the click of a mouse.
During this busy, stressed out time of year when lots of people are rushing around buying all that "stuff" to put under the tree, I felt this article was fitting. Can we learn to stop buying so much stuff, and learn other ways to shift our consumer habits? Do we want to? What do you think? Please way in with your thoughts on this topic.