If you've followed the technology world over the last five years, you know that the three buzziest trends in Silicon Valley have been "social media," "mobile computing," and the "sharing economy."
On the off-chance you've never heard of the sharing economy, here's a thumbnail definition, courtesy of Fast Company:
"How many of you own a power drill?" Rachel Botsman, the author of the book The Rise Of Collaborative Consumption, asked the audience at TedxSydney in 2010. Predictably, nearly everyone raised his or her hand. "That power drill will be used around 12 to 15 minutes in its entire lifetime," Botsman continued with mock exasperation. "It's kind of ridiculous, isn't it? Because what you need is the hole, not the drill."
After pausing for a moment as the audience chuckled, she provided the obvious solution.
"Why don't you rent the drill? Or rent out your own drill to other people and make some money from it?
And that, my friends, is the sharing economy: A peer-to-peer network of people who find one another over the internet and monetize their wasting assets by renting out items--cars, power drills, ladders--to people who need them. Now, if you've never heard about the sharing economy, don't worry—because it's already dead. The companies which sprung up to take advantage of it have all gone bust.
The entire idea of the "sharing economy" is a nifty little look into how disconnected both Silicon Valley and the media can be from real life.
Let's start with the media. In that great Fast Company piece, reporter Sarah Kessler does a fine bit of forensics chasing the idea of the sharing company through the press. Like, for instance, the way they mindlessly regurgitated the anecdote about the drill:
The media loved the idea. Entrepreneur magazine named NeighborGoods one of its 100 most brilliant companies of 2011, and it's hard to find a publication that covers technology that did not mention the idea of sharing the power drill. Many of them cited the example directly: Time magazine explained that "renting a power drill via SnapGoods for the one day you need it is a lot cheaper than buying it." The Guardian, when introducing NeighborGoods, said that the idea made sense "with the average power drill used only about 12 minutes per year." The New York Daily News told New Yorkers they could "save countless ways by borrowing items, like a power drill, from neighbors." And Wired asked, "If I can avoid buying an electric drill for that one job, or some temporary dinner-party chairs, or a car I will drive maybe a couple of times a month—well, why wouldn't I rent them from you?"
Even companies that weren't renting power drills proselytized the theory. "There are 80 million power drills in America that are used an average of 13 minutes," Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told the New York Times in a 2013 column about the sharing economy. "Does everyone really need their own drill?"