Getting “Mr. Idle Thing” to Work.
“A hypothesis on sustainable, collaborative consumption, within Hyperlocal markets.”
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These things don’t matter anymore
During my corporate career, I used to travel a lot across the World. My son was born in 2006, and as he became more aware, I got into this habit of buying things for him, from different places. It was perhaps, my way of compensating, for the time, that I couldn’t spend with him. Initially, it used to be, toys and games but later the gifts, graduated into more sophisticated items, like Telescopes and Boomerangs.
He would be beaming with joy when I came back from my long trips. Then, he would go straight to my trolley bag and dig in for his gift.
But with the passage of time, his enthusiasm waned. The stuff that I used to bring in, kept him engaged for a few days, at best. After that, it would be lying in some corner of the house.
One day, I got a little agitated and like a true father, I said, “Son, I buy these things with hard-earned money, and yet you don’t seem to value them.”
Without raising his eyebrows, he replied in taciturn fashion, “ These things don’t matter anymore.”
Do more “Things” mean more Happiness
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We somehow, seem to equate things with happiness. Money, which can buy things, is somehow related to joy and fulfillment. While money and possessions are important, studies have shown that beyond a certain threshold they don’t give you, any more satisfaction.
“Once you get basic human needs met, a lot more money doesn’t make a lot more happiness,” notes Dan Gilbert, the famous author of Stumbling on Happiness.
The Grant study, the longest happiness study that went on for 72 years, concluded, “The only things that really matter in life, are your relationships, to other people.”
Others like Elizibeth Dunn, a professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, believe, based upon empirical evidence, that if people control their time, they are generally more happy and satisfied.
Accumulation Mindset and Climate Change
Research points out the fact, that money and things, don’t equal happiness.
Yet, we keep accumulating stuff. Like little boys and girls we move from one thing to the other. We are a consuming society, always at the Malls, shopping till we drop. We wait for the Amazon Prime Day Sales and new phone launches. Most of us, seem to be living, in a Matrix-like world where we work and live, simply to accumulate more things.
As a result, factories in China keep producing goods, at a gigantic scale. It is easier to buy a new TV than to get an old one repaired. China has become the factory of the World precisely on this model. Produce goods which won’t last long, keep selling them, year after year, to customers across the World. The customers also don’t seem to be caring about product life and quality, anymore.
This massive production of goods has a cost. It is driven by huge energy consumption and 80% of that energy, comes from fossil fuels like Coal, Crude Oil, Gas, etc. These fossil fuels release approximately, 38 gigatons of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. The whole phenomenon. is leading to, global temperatures rising by more than 4 degrees in the last 50 years. Floods and famines, wildfires, desertification of grasslands, and melting of polar ice caps, will wreak havoc if left unchecked. The change in climate is only getting worse and there is a pressing need, to get to a, more sustainable level of consumption.
In Patriot Act, a show on Netflix, Hasan Minaj, the host, exemplifies this with the concept of “fast fashion”. Accordingly, the average American woman buys 64 pieces of clothing in a year, half of which is worn 3 times or less, before being dumped. Fashion companies are producing trendy clothes, cheaply and making them disposable. The textile industry alone produces more greenhouse gasses than the aviation and the shipping industries combined.
Urban Indians, especially the middle class, are no different. Shopping has become a national pastime for us. “BUY, USE A LITTLE…. THROW OR FORGET” is the new mantra of the consuming class.
This rampant consumption, is no good, for the future of this planet. Climate change is knocking on our door and telling us to wake up.
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After a while, most of our “Things” become Idle…and create Clutter in our lives
The stuff, that we keep buying endlessly, turns idle quickly. Shoes keep sitting in shoe racks, our toolkits keep languishing in old cupboards, our Cars spent 90% of their time in the parking lots.
Research, tells us, that more than 50% of the stuff in our homes is not used, even once, a month.
There is a lot of clutter in our homes and all this while most of our things stay idle and unemployed.
There is this picture, in which Steve Jobs, is sitting, in a large room. His only possessions were a mat, a lampshade, and some books. Imagine, the super-rich, Steve Jobs, with no possessions. I am not being a minimalist but the picture is surreal. There was so little clutter in that picture. No wonder, the guy was a genius, because there seemed to be little clutter in his life.
Evolution of Consumption
In the olden times, in a village or a small town, people knew each other. They used to trust each other. Hence consumption patterns were simpler and more sustainable. A micro-community, like a village or a small town, was a self-sustaining economic unit and had little dependence on the outside world. A farmer used to barter his grain, with the blacksmith, for some farm tools, and with the tailor, for some clothes.
It is only when, we started craving exotic goods, from the outside world, that the concept of money came in. There was obviously a trust deficit between two different towns, which only got bridged, by the use of money.
Today, Central Banks across the World have abused the power of money or currency, so much, that it is simply losing all its sheen. Growth, driven by, unrestrained consumption, seems to be the only goal, of, even the policymakers. As a result, money has simply become what is known as the Fiat. Authority is, what keeps, money relevant. Bitcoin is a shining example, of the lack of trust, that we have in our current monetary system.
Maybe the time has come to relook at the self-sustaining micro-economic units like the village or a town of the old times.
Shared Economy and Trust Leaps with Hyperlocal
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But the question before us is tricky. In this fast-paced world, how will we ever get back to a sustainable microeconomic unit, where shared economies and collaborative consumption, are the rule of the day.
Sharing economy companies like Uber and Airbnb, have revolutionized the way, individuals share automobiles and houses. But it was very difficult for these companies, to get, to this level. They had spent, hundreds of millions of dollars, in advertising and PR, before people become comfortable traveling with strangers or living in someone else’s house. This was largely on account of trust deficits that exist among people who don’t know each other.
Fortunately, in today’s urban landscape, we have these microeconomic hyperlocal entities called Localities or Neighbourhoods. At the core of the Locality is the “Apartment Complex” or “The Gated Community” or “The Condominium.” The residents of these complexes have similar demographic profiles and consumption patterns. The most important factor that binds them, is the “Proximity Factor”.
The Apartment Complex is like our proverbial village, where people live through the good and bad times together. Fellow residents are our first point of contact. We share our joys and sorrows with them, more than we do, with our own kith and kin. Remember those independence day celebrations and the colors of Holi or even when we helped each other during tough Covid times. The proximity factor binds us like glue. Even if, we don’t like each other, we can hardly avoid each other.
Does our Mr “Idle Thing” gets a New Lease of Life
The proximity factor can be an enabler of Trust Leaps. The residents can indulge in a limitless sharing economy, which is otherwise, difficult to replicate in a larger economic construct.
It becomes easier to Buy, Sell, Rent, Barter, or even Borrow, the stuff that is lying in your home.
Buying and selling of old stuff, has been happening, on the internet, for donkey years. The problem is that you get more calls from brokers and dealers, rather than genuine buyers. Also, used product commerce, in India is confined to mostly non-invasive categories like Cars, Houses, Hardware, Old Furniture, etc. Categories like Clothes, Shoes, and Accessories have yet not picked up, largely on account of trust deficits.
Other transactions, like renting, are confined mostly to Cars and Houses. These markets are driven by middlemen, even on electronic platforms, P2P commerce is in the backseat.
You yourself, might not rent your SUV, to an unknown stranger, living ten km, away from you, but you might consider renting it out to, a fellow condo resident, who is going for a weekend trip, to the Hills. He lives in your Apartment Complex and has a similar demographic profile and trust isn’t such a big issue, anymore.
Similarly, a lady might consider renting out, her Louis Vuitton bag or an expensive designer wear, to someone she trusts rather than a stranger.
We will all rent our stuff if we get a decent rent, especially for aspirational categories. And as a recipient, we will be equally keen, as we can’t buy an SUV or a Louis Vuitton bag, every day.
There are also transactions like Barter and Borrow which will get a new lease of life in these Hyperlocal communities.
Sometime back, there was work happening in my apartment and I needed a step ladder. I hopped on to Amazon and promptly bought a new one, accumulating more plastic and robbing the Earth of more iron. I am sure there were tens of step ladders in my community. I just needed someone, to facilitate, the borrow transaction, including delivering it to my home and maybe even sanitizing it, since these are Covid times.
Similarly, I have some tennis racquets lying idle in my home and I want to give them up. Wouldn’t it be nice, if there was a platform that facilitated a transaction that let me barter my tennis racquet with any other product of equivalent value, that I could use more often?
So will our Mr “Idle Thing,” get a new lease of life!
It would if there was a platform that enabled end-to-end transactions of every type, in a Hyperlocal community like an Apartment Complex or a Locality, where there is trust.
Such a platform could move beyond products.
It could evolve into a hub, where people, do not just utilize their stuff better. Residents could also monetize their talents and their time. Professionals, like doctors, teachers, lawyers, photographers, accountants, and architects could find new clients in their own community.
People could crowdfund projects and initiatives. Interest-based communities could seamlessly move from online to offline and vice versa.
It doesn’t stop at that. Small community businesses, like Grocers and Chemists, could get internet-enabled to compete better with behemoths like Amazon, which are killing them by the day.
All this could be driven by the power of proximity and trust, that a Hyperlocal setting, like a gated community, provides.
After all, trust is what builds communities and networks. It makes humans, collaborate and cooperate, in ways that can change the World.
And as the Australian writer, George David Roberts says,
“A man trusts another man, when he sees enough of himself, in him.”
Sandeep Ganju-Co-Founder ProxC