.Shareology

As technology shifts our evolution, the human conversation becomes even more important

SHARE ALIKE: Sharing has increased its ease and scale to a global level.

Humans have been sharing resources and knowledge since they first banded together in prehistoric times, even before there was language. We shared to survive then, but we continue to share knowledge even though survival is no longer at stake. Or is it? Philosophers have long pondered the nature of mankind and why we interact the way we do. We share for many reasons—some self-serving and some not—but I firmly believe that our need to share is based on the human instinct not only to survive, but to thrive.

Sharing is a fundamental human behavior central to our survival as a human race. Whether we’re sharing stories, processes, insights, philosophies, techniques or secrets, it’s how we connect to each other and advance as a society. Now with technologies like the Internet, video, social media and mobile, sharing has increased its ease and scale to a global level. Information is no longer confined to geographical boundaries; proximity is no longer required to pass information from one human to another.

After 30,000 years of sharing information in the same way, yet faced in the last 20 years with the emergence of technologies that connect global tribes together, humans need to rethink the way we share ideas as a global community.

Things are moving at a faster pace today for humankind than ever before, and we’re more connected now than we’ve ever been. We’re no longer as polarized by geography, by race, by gender—but we still need each other to survive. Time has spread us across the globe, and the need to connect is written into our DNA, even though we’re competing for the same limited space on this planet.

For three years I deconstructed these platforms and tried to understand why some ideas took off like wildfire and others died on the vine. I started to recognize patterns in sentiment and the importance of timing in making an idea explode into reality.

Today, sharing communities are making it easier for individuals to get goods and services from each other (not just from brands), and this has produced new disruptive business models. Whether it’s sharing or buying pre-owned or custom products (eBay, Craigslist, Pleygo, Etsy), providing services (Elance, ODesk, Angie’s List), or transportation (Car2Go, Uber, or Zipcar), people are moving toward a more collaborative mode of doing business with each other, and that’s forcing industries to change the way they approach relationships with consumers.

Another good example of a business that owes its success to the collaborative economy is Airbnb, the shared space broker that’s shaking up the hospitality industry. They’ve combined the power of sourcing the crowd with a social e-commerce engine. It connects people who need lodging to people who want to offer their home, condo, or apartment when they’re not using it. For travelers, Airbnb offers rates that are generally cheaper than hotels and a great customer experience. For property owners, the platform provides the opportunity to make money renting out what they own (during short, specific dates) and a readymade audience who want this service. The new sharing model puts power into the hands of homeowners and traveling consumers and is changing the way many people book overnight stays.

For instance, the renowned film, music, and digital festival South by Southwest (SXSW) that happens each March in Austin, Texas, has grown exponentially due to Airbnb. Prior to Airbnb, attendance was limited by hotel availability. Now more attendees descend on Austin during the few weeks of the event, providing Austin area property owners (and I’m sure renters and leasers) opportunities to make money leasing their spaces at a premium.

I can attest to this personally. My wife and I were customers of Airbnb during SXSW and would have been stuck in a two-star hotel in the boonies if it weren’t for an awesome studio condo we found within walking distance to downtown. I feel good about it too. We’ve gotten to know the owner, and the money we pay for the week is helping her put a dent in grad school expenses.

Fast Company writer Sarah Kessler describes an options trader in San Francisco who makes trades until the early afternoon, then spends the rest of the day managing six apartments he rents to Airbnb guests, netting about $2,000 profit per apartment per month after expenses. Airbnb charges a modest fee for their service but even so is making quite a profit as well. At this writing, Airbnb’s valuation has grown to $10 billion, making it more valuable than long-established hotel chains around the world such as Wyndham, Hyatt, and InterContinental—all without owning a single piece of property.

We’re on the cusp of something big: a shift in human evolution. The Digital Age is a big part of this new shift. The technology explosion of the last few years is teaching us to interact in a new way.

Social media, while it has had a big impact by itself, is just a piece of a bigger picture that is growing and expanding by the minute. For example, 3-D printers, the stuff of science fiction just a decade or two ago, are now allowing us to manufacture parts and materials— from biomaterials and implants for the medical industry to aerospace technologies and manufacturing—that transform the way we live. We can even print clothing and food. Imagine the impact this will have when 3-D printing technology becomes commonplace (and it’s getting there). We’ll be able to order things like jackets, gourmet meals, or cars and have them printed and delivered immediately—or even print them ourselves in the comfort of our own home.

Another example is the sensors that connect things and people, such as wearable technology like Apple Watch and Fitbit. Even the Tesla self-driving car that can navigate and steer its way to any destination demonstrates the rapid evolution of technologies that connect our digital and physical world. At this point, we are limited only by our imaginations regarding what could be next.

As technology continues to evolve, especially in the digital space, we find ourselves shape-shifting from the digital world into the physical and vice versa, moving conversation, collaboration and sharing from one context to another.

Let’s take the physical realm of shape-shifting and look at the latest MIT project, a display that enables you to reach through a screen and affect an object on the other side. Imagine being on Skype with your friends and the camera picks up the movement of your hands. The movement allows you to physically move the object in front of the computer on the other end. While the immediate applications are small, the potential impact is endless.

Shape-shifting also applies to the contextual moments we rely on to gather information. You would be surprised to think of Apple’s Siri as a limited database, but it is; this is why it doesn’t always pull the information you need based on what you ask of the technology. However, in Apple’s latest patent application, Siri will be able to reach beyond its available data and take the cumulative thoughts from human interactions across digital and social, and crowdsource the information just for you.

Shared and connected experiences will give rise to many more innovations like these that will help us cross-contextualize lines in communication and sharing. We’re at the very beginning and cannot even imagine how our lives will change over the next five to ten years. However, one essential thing will never change: the human need to communicate with each other as individuals.

Recently I heard firsthand Faith Popcorn’s predictions for what our lives will look like in 2050. As excited as I was to hear her perspective (her first book, The Popcorn Report, greatly influenced my own career), I was not excited by what I learned.

According to Faith, the future looks, well . . . grim. It’s dystopian, with a fourth robot class displacing human workers and humans essentially living in isolated pods, only communicating via technology. In her vision, everything we need, including food, is served to us in our own personal environment. There’s no reason to leave our homes, no physical reason to connect, no need unfillable.

This was hard for me to wrap my head around. Don’t we have a choice? Will we choose, as human beings, to blindly evolve into a society that prioritizes things and efficiency over emotion? I hope not. Technology may be driving new ways to connect and converse, but we should keep in mind the human conversation.

Soon technology will allow us to deliver personalized and individualized experiences between humans and brand marketers, delivering real-time opportunities to speak human to human—as it should be.

Excerpted from “Shareology: How Sharing is Powering the Human Economy,” Bryan J. Kramer, Morgan James Publishing, 2015.

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