Sharing Economy

Brief Thoughts

Posted by Joe Blankenship on December 28, 2017

There is something progressive to be said about any group or technology that looks to connect people in an age of increasing digital meditation of social interactions. At the time of writing this, the global demand for blockchain technologies and distributed architectures is rapidly growing as a challenge to ever increasing centralization of goods and services in which providers coordinate with builders and maintainers of ICT infrastructures seemingly outside of these social interactions, but very much in reaction to them. For many, service providers like Amazon obscure the complex realities of economic exchange by mediating the burden of logistics, communications, and facilitation through the use of simple user interfaces and user experiences. This ultimately divides the consumers and producers of goods and services and increasingly empowers the mediators of these socio-economic interactions.

Sharing economy as a concept has the potential to liberate consumers if certain conditions are addressed and key functionalities are developed to facilitate those conditions. Perhaps the first and foremost is in how specific versions of “sharing” economy are defined. In many cases, “sharing” is more akin to “on-demand” in which the social is intrinsically linked to the economic, but in such a way that reinforces existing forms of economic exchange and process (Cockayne, 2016). In this case, it is discourse and social values that are critical in defining “sharing” for individuals and their unique forms of interaction. Furthermore, the manner in which sharing is regulated (Wilson & Cali, 2017) is key in its formation and function. This is largely affected through the structures in which the sharing economy is placed and scaled. This is also closely related to the ethics and algorithms in modern sharing economic systems that mediate the social and political aspects of economy to gain a particular set of effects; perpetuating itself through cycles of engagement and established precedent.

Furthermore, trust (ter Huurne, 2017) in people and the platform is critical in sustained engagement for any economy; sharing economies especially so. Matters of safety for a person’s reputation is key if goods and services are to be persistently introduced into a sharing economy as identity for people and groups is directly tied to peer-to-peer (P2P) interactions and the platforms through which these relations are built and mediated. Moreover, expression over time for these relationships and the individuals is tied to more than just goods and services, but to the labor costs (Malhotra & van Alstyne, 2014), workplaces (Richardson, 2017), and external pressures such as those brought to bear on the paradoxical nature of digital mediation via algorithm-driven sharing economy applications (Richardson, 2015). In each case, the liberating functionality of P2P socio-economic interactions has to deal to the effects on existing institutions as access, ethics, and risk must be more rapidly addressed for the plethora of populations who are already at the mercy of one system and at the precipice of another. To this, self-regulation throughout communities of access and forms of collaboration have to engage with local to international scales-of-effect for those participating and those who are not. This is why ease-of-access through UX/UI design is critical in the initial success and longevity of any financial technology.

In an era of distributed ICT architectures, blockchain technologies, and algorithmic governance, sharing economies stand to gain ground on existing institutions through their ability to more efficiently address the above concerns for consumers and service providers. Given the nature of smart contracts, the ability for people to mediate their own economic dealings (in a manner that is becoming more simple) is a direct threat to companies who have dominated similar economic tasks through brick-and-mortar stores and later through e-commerce websites. This new generation of technology-driven, algorithm-regulated, sharing application-based organization fosters control of the social relationships and political contexts through which economic interactions occur and provide new ways for people to control their economic futures. This is self-evident as much of the fervor to find revolutionary applications of blockchains, the merkle web (e.g., IPFS), and P2P exchanges is not so much driven by their conditions and promises in and of themselves, but in the discontent with existing economic and political systems that persistently fail numerous populations and leave individuals in search of something better. This draws of out larger issues concerning conformity and subjugation within geoeconomic systems which sharing economies both offer liberation from and paradoxically complicit adherence to. Due to this, sharing economic organizations must be as transparent and forthcoming as possible regarding how it situates itself within the economic processes of the users and the world as it is.

Governments and international financial organizations are of concern moving forward. Due to the flattening-effects of global ICT infrastructures, the speed and reach of economic interactions are becoming a target of regulation and taxation of which sharing economies must be aware and account for moving forward. Even when moving between volatile cryptocurrency assets, one must worry about state and corporate overlaps that complicate or stymie particular forms of interactions (e.g., legal exchange of goods/services that are taxable under existing laws, illegal exchange of goods/services in one state that is not regulated in another via software ran/regulated everywhere). Though there is a solution in acknowledgment of DAOs as the corporate center of particular economic functions, this is still a ways off and there is no regulatory framework through which state and corporate entities can challenge such shifts in financial technology; providing opportunity and complications to a number of current concerns.

For the individual, there is the simultaneous liberation from these issues and burden of responsibility for the knowledge/power dynamics they now incur. This is where community is critical in sharing economies and where sharing economies can prevail socially and political in the end. Unless community is fostered through the establishment of transparent, overt ethics and values, the schemes through which the sharing economy predicates itself will ultimately diminish over time; people have to believe in the system en mass. Value must be as much in the processes as it is in the experience; simple, easy and reliable in all of its forms and functions. This requires persistent evaluations that foster high internal valuation of the system and account for shifts in value over time. Though material value is at the core of these economies, it is the immaterial reputations, identities, and relationships that sustain them through periods of depreciation and reinvention. In systems that utilize newer technologies, such as smart contracts and merkle web, communities are expanded and integrated through the tangential establishment of relevance for projects that help all parties involved; utility in one realm helps all establish value in their respective areas of interest.

There is great potential in sharing economy applications and communities, but caution must be taken if the issues of past economies are not reproduced in the future to much more damaging effect.

Cockayne, D. G. (2016). Sharing and neoliberal discourse: The economic function of sharing in the digital on-demand economy. Geoforum, 77, 73-82.
Huurne, M., Ronteltap, A., Corten, R., & Buskens, V. (2017). Antecedents of trust in the sharing economy: A systematic review. Journal Of Consumer Behaviour, 16(6), 485-498.
Malhotra, A., & Van Alstyne, M. (2014). The Dark Side of the Sharing Economy ... and How to Lighten It. Communications Of The ACM, 57(11), 24-27.
Richardson, L. (2017). Sharing as a postwork style: digital work and the co-working office. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 10(2), 297-310.
Richardson, L. (2015). Performing the sharing economy. Geoforum, 67, 121-129.
Wilson, B., & Cali, S. (2017). Smarter cities, smarter regulations: A case for the algorithmic regulation of platform-based sharing economy firms. UMKC Law Review, 85(4), 845-893.

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