Creating a Peer-to-Peer Economy

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Tompkins Weekly May 14, 2012

by Alex Colket

Cities have so much potential. Consider for a moment the tremendous diversity of experiences you could have, people you could meet, products you could buy/trade/share, services you could contract, and the skills you could learn just within downtown Ithaca. The dense format of city living offers so many possibilities, yet our access to these opportunities is quite limited. It may be relatively easy to connect to the resources offered by local businesses, but we have poor knowledge of all the amazing things that others in our community have to offer. So much potential is wasted because we are not connected enough with the people around us.

In a world of infinite abundance and total equality, perhaps this would be fine; but in a world where we are facing climate change, resource depletion, and social injustice, this is just not acceptable. We are voraciously consuming  resources from around the globe – much to the detriment of our environment – while leaving our community capital massively underutilized. If we wish to continue living in a society that affords us a degree of convenience and opportunity similar to what we currently enjoy, we need to find a way to make more efficient use of what we already have.

Of course, this is how it used to be. Towns, tribes, villages and other types of communities historically supported themselves just fine without relying on the outside world to meet their needs. However, as the density of our settlements increased and the pace of life quickened, we began to lose touch with what the people around us had to offer, and we instead turned to businesses and brands to support us. This shift has since snowballed out of control to the point where selling, bartering, and sharing amongst neighbors is nothing but a fringe movement, and the community-based economies that worked so well for so long have been almost entirely replaced by globalization.

With this new economic infrastructure so firmly entrenched, how can we ever hope to return to a model that grows our communities instead of corporations? Ironically, one of globalization’s greatest achievements – the Internet and the mobile web – offers us an incredible opportunity to do just that. In fact, it’s probably more than an opportunity at this point; with all the social, environmental and economic pressures pushing us in this direction, re-localization seems like an inevitability. The internet has already changed the way many of us live, but in the next 5-10 years it’s going to fundamentally  transform our society and serve as an operating system for new, sustainable way of living. Healthy communities and strong local economies will serve as a foundation for this new future.  This time around, we are all going to work together to do it right.

By harnessing the power of the mobile, social web and all the amazing tools it offers for sharing, organization, collaboration, and discovery, we will build a vibrant peer to peer economy where we buy, sell, share, trade, rent, and give directly with the people around us. As we go online and use these tools to communicate with each other about what we have to offer and what we need, we will be able to make better use of our resources and take full advantage of opportunities to help one another. Suddenly, all these assets that are sitting around underutilized – spaces that are not filled, possessions that are not wanted, skills that are not used, time that is wasted – will become commodities that we can leverage to support ourselves and meet our needs. This new economic model is variously being called collaborative consumption, the sharing economy, or the peer to peer economy, and as it takes hold it will disrupt globalization and help us pave a path to a more just and sustainable future.

I believe that this step of rebuilding communities and strengthening our local economies is one of the most impactful things we can do if we wish to solve the myriad environmental, social, and economic problems we currently face. I think the web offers us a chance to make this happen very soon. To this end, I’ve spent the last 15 months of my life working to build a web platform called Swidjit. to facilitate this exciting future. The current site is just a start, but with your participation and feedback, we can grow it into a powerful tool and use it to make this place even more amazing. Check it out to browse the latest listings as a guest, or login to post your own haves/wants/events/thoughts/etc. Your involvement will help support Swidjit’s efforts to build a thriving, inclusive, collaborative community and a brighter future.

Alex Colket is the founder of Swidjit and a member of the Sustainable Tompkins board of directors.

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