Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Is the collaborative economy only for the privileged?
Felix Stalder on Wed, 13 Mar 2013 00:09:04 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Is the collaborative economy only for the privileged?

Sharing and collaboration are often touted as the ultimate solutions
to combat the downturn. But the people who speak the loudest are often
the ones who have the least to be afraid of.


For the past few years, I’ve been a dedicated advocate of the
collaborative economy. I belong to the OuiShare core team, have my own
sharing startup, write semi-regularly for Shareable, organize local
meetups in Helsinki, and so on.

I’m able to do all this because I can afford it. I have a safety net.
I was born in a Finnish upper middle class family. I have higher
education. I have savings, and I know that if I my startup won’t make
it and I run out of money, I can always get a job. The worst case
scenario is that I have to ask for money from my parents.

Still, like the most of us (there are exceptions too), I do need money
for living. To pay the rent, to get food on the table. And the truth
is that I have never been in a situation where I’d have to worry about
not having enough money for either of those. I am very privileged.
The financial considerations I have to make are in the neighborhood
of “can I afford to attend both OuiShare Fest in Paris and OuiShare
Summit in Barcelona this year, or do I need to pick only one of them.”

I’m not alone. I remember a discussion from a year ago, in the early
days of OuiShare, when Antonin was describing the OuiShare activists.
He said: “We are all Bobos.”

He was referring to a term coined by David Brooks in his book Bobos
in Paradise, describing people who are from the middle to upper
class, often highly educated, liberal, tolerant, and averse to

Bobos don’t have to work 60-80 hours a week in a low-paid job just to
feed their family. Bobos can afford to work for what they believe in.
Free is for the wealthy

Many people have recently shared this inspirational TED talk by Amanda
Palmer. In it she describes an ideal of the collaborative economy: a
meritocracy in which people do not demand to be paid, but are instead
simply voluntarily rewarded for their efforts by those for whom they
provide value.


While there’s a lot in the talk to praise, not everyone was amused.
Cord Jefferson of Gawker links the message with the recent hot topic
of media companies not paying their writers, and notes that doing
things for free is always easier for those who are better off. He is
worried that if the trend of “voluntarily” paying creatives for their
work continues, the voice of the privileged will be heard even louder
than before, at the others’ expense.

Jefferson writes: “Artists with million-dollar checks in their pockets
are telling other artists that they shouldn’t expect to get paid;
publications are telling writers that they shouldn’t expect to get
paid, either; and meanwhile everyone wonders why we can’t get more
diversity in the creative ranks.”

You guessed right: I’m not getting paid for writing this article.
Think about the people who edit Wikipedia or OpenStreetMap, or who
contribute to Linux, OpenOffice or Open Source Ecology, or who fund
the KickStarter projects (not to mention those who attend TED talks).
How well do you think the different ethnical, cultural, and economical
backgrounds are represented among them?

___The sharing economy and the new class warfare

Some have described collaborative consumption or the sharing economy
as “an elite movement”. But there are also a lot of not-so-wealthy
people involved in it. They are often the ones who run chores in
TaskRabbit or drive the Lyft vehicles. As many have pointed out, this
actually does not have that much to do with sharing. Erin Griffith of
PandoDaily writes:

Sharing is by definition free — how can it have its own economy if
there’s money involved? Sharing for money is called renting.

Says one TaskRabbit: “I do definitely need the cash. But I’ve been
reading the press about TaskRabbit and there’s some real conflict
of interests here. For one thing, the image and the verbiage they
use — it’s neighbors helping neighbors — as if I’m doing this out of
the goodness of my heart. As if I don’t care about the money — and I
do care about the money. I want to get paid and I want to get paid

It’s easy to think that if this trend continues, it might lead to a
division of people into two classes: those who use the sharing economy
services to live more comfortably, and those who are enabling this
lifestyle because their income depends on it. Is this the future we

Some have proposed that the “real” sharing economy – the one where
money is not involved – should be called something else, like “anarchy
economy” – separating it from the phenomenon dominated by the big
venture-funded corporations like Airbnb.

While we can always argue about the terms that are used, what’s more
important is to identify the different motivations and abilities
people have, and the differences coming from their different
backgrounds and capabilities. How can we create a new collaborative
economy that is equally beneficial for everyone, no matter where they
come from?

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: http://mx.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org