The Nation



Renting the world: a new era dawns

Hard times and Internet connectivity are fuelling a multibillion-dollar "sharing economy" that could soon eclipse our old desire to own

At first, e-commerce was basically about people selling and buying things online. Now, with the social media fast becoming a part of everyday life, buying and selling have been joined by renting. The "sharing economy" has emerged on the back of fast-improving mobile connectivity, and the phenomenon could soon irreversibly change how we live.

During good times, people love to "own". But what about the bad economic periods? What if the choice to rent extended to nearly everything? Why not rent your friend's Mini car for a month while she is away overseas, and then try a cousin's Mercedes for two weeks?

CNN reports that, in the United States, everything from cars and downtown parking spaces to designer clothes and holiday accommodation are being rented out by individuals and companies in a multibillion-dollar trade providing easy access to what people need in difficult times. And it's not just about making money. Charity and concern for the environment are also fuelling this new sharing phenomenon.

If this idea takes stronger hold, it could change the world economy. Just take a look around your house and see what you might be able to give away or rent for a fee. It must be a lot of stuff. The sofa you've grown bored with might make your friends' jaws drop. In other words, we might no longer have to break the bank to get our hands on that retro wardrobe or antique table we want.

Sharing has always been part of life. But the social media are making it so much easier. If a trusted friend's arrival from the United States coincides with your planned overseas vacation, why not arrange cheap accommodation for him? That would have taken expensive long-distance phone calls in the past, but now you can finalise things on Facebook or Line without fuss.

Collaborative consumption, as some people are calling it, is worth $3.5 billion per year already in the States, CNN reported. And it's not just the willingness to share that makes it happen. The fast-spreading idea of "non-ownership" is fuelling the new economic concept. Solar panels, for example, tend to be rented rather than bought these days, CNN said.

Private firms will have to adjust. But consumers will have more fun as their choices extend from what they see in showrooms to what their Facebook friends upload. Better still, you should be able to compare, say, Apple and Samsung products, by yourself without having to rely on reviews that are all too often biased.

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