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The Business of Sharing: How Technology Is Changing the Concept of Ownership

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The idea of ownership is rapidly changing. As society continues to advance, technology has spearheaded the transformation of the way we work, live, and play. With co-working spaces popping up all over the world, and companies like AirBnB and Lyft, we are moving towards a socio-economic system built upon sharing our time, talents, and resources.

The physical concept of a community-oriented space where people could meet and work was born in a Berlin hackerspace in 1995. Technology was the joining force of creating these collaborative workspaces that were later defined by American game designer Bernard de Koven as "co-working". He described a shared space brought together by technology and collaborative creations through "working together as equals."

These spaces foster creativity and connectivity. Studies have shown that these individuals are working less, by working more productively; thus encouraging a true work-life balance. These spaces can cut companies' real estate rent by 50 percent or more, depending on the city and any amenities. Spaces like this also open up funds to further grow and support their organizations. While most co-working spaces are utilized by freelancers, entrepreneurs, and businesses that need a remote location due to heavy travel, brick-and-mortar companies are adopting concepts from the shared office space model. For example, State Street, a financial firm out of Boston, has been developing an internal co-working space for its employees. Some major companies, like coconut water brand Vita Coco, were birthed out of co-working spaces. Technology was the driving force behind this concept, and the demand is ever increasing.

Through tech platforms, companies like AirBnB are fostering change with way we live and travel. AirBnB is a website that allows users to rent out their homes. The lender gets extra cash from their apartment or home and the renter has the luxury of having an authentic experience in a new place, often cheaper than the hotel alternatives. As a by-product of AirBnB, local economies see a boost. The outer boroughs of NYC received a $105M in additional funds from AirBnB guest spending. They have brought over half a billion dollars of economic activity to NYC and $824M in the U.K.

People worldwide are posting their homes online to help pay their rent or mortgage, reduce their debt, plan for a trip, or support a freelance or entrepreneurial career. However, financial motives are not always a driving force of a sharing economy lifestyle. Companies like Couchsurfer, a competitor to AirBnB, is a website hosting a community of travelers that allow other travelers to crash on their couches when exploring new cities.

The sharing economy is permeating the transportation and travel industry not only in destination, but also the means to get there. Through technology, we now have platforms like Lyft that allows users to share their cars. The stay-at-home-mom can now use her station wagon to carpool customers. The idea of a shared platform is beneficial for all. Not only does it bring the supply to the demand, but also it provides a source of passive income for users, and meets demand. Uber is another technology-driven company that is closing the gap between supply and demand. Through creating this combo of taxi and private car services, they make more money, have a wider reach, and have the opportunity to create more jobs. Consumers have the benefit of having a car when they want it, with very little effort and waiting. No more waiting in the rain for a taxi!

Subscription models have altered the way we consume and collect music. Gone are the days where we had CD towers for our ever-growing music library. The need for an iPod is slowly becoming obsolete. Music technology companies like Spotify and Pandora, while offering users the option for free music, also have subscription models, allowing users to access almost any song or any album at any time. Pandora introduces users to new music and provides an endless stream of music based on artists and songs that listeners like. Spotify allows you to play any song or album while integrating the social aspect of seeing what your friends are jamming to, or following their playlists.

Subscription models are also used in offline forms, further promoting the idea and benefit of the sharing society. The first community bike-sharing program was in the Netherlands in the mid-1960's. However, it wasn't until the 1990's, with the use of "smart technology" to prevent bikes from getting stolen, that the programs began to flourish. Today, there are over 500 bike-sharing programs worldwide. The great thing about subscription models on tangible items, like bikes, is that one only possesses the item in the moment, for that specific need. With the bike-sharing program, you pick up the bike, ride it, and drop it off at your location. You now have the luxury of not having to worry about this bike. You don't have to lock it up, worry about it getting stolen, and if the weather or your temperament changes, you aren't obliged to ride it home. The annual membership program in NYC costs a third of the average priced bicycle. In Chicago, you can rent a bike for 24 hours for $7.

Even the way we gather information has evolved to be more collaborative and shared. Platforms like Twitter quickly spread information to large groups of people. Sites like Reddit, a news, entertainment, and social website allows users to submit articles and then vote the articles up or down on the list, thus determining the "top read" stories of the day. Companies like Pulse allow users to view articles on subjects they are particularly interested in.

This move to a more minimalistic, shared society is more collaborative, cost-effective, and efficient. Everyone's needs are met with minimal resources. Less human and physical capital is wasted. With technology continuing to advance our lives, in combination with the sharing economy, people are paying the bills, saving for that dream vacation, working more flexible hours, collaborating and meeting new people.

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