The Sharing Economy: Slow and Amicable Destruction

I hope it is clear, but in case it isn’t, allow me to press the point that the current so-called “sharing economy” is exactly opposite to the political, ethical and aesthetic dispositions and social relations to which this blog site (and my work in general) is dedicated, in its focus on “a shared sense of things.” For the latter is precisely about something other than the attempt to completely monetize, economize, data-ize, rationalize, and capitalize, the spaces and experiences of rapport through which the social—as sense of the common—is created, shaped, shared and sustained between us. Such spaces and experiences of rapport are not part of any network. In fact, if a shared sense of things means anything, it does so to the extent that it seeks to affirm those things about life that remain un-networked—and perhaps even incapable of ever being “linked in.”

On the other hand, if you want to slowly and amicably destroy social relations, including, as Sherry Turkle has recently argued, that essential and vital experience of the social called “conversation,” then invent a social network and call it Facebook. Or, if you want to slowly and amicably destroy the sense of home, including an ethics of hospitality, then invent a rental economy and call it Airbnb. If your target is education, and you want to slowly and amicably destroy those moments of pedagogical insight that uniquely happen in the classroom and other spaces of intellectual discussion and debate, then invent massive online open courses and call them MOOCs. And if, within the economy of education, your target is that uppermost echelon known as academia, then invent an online network of entrepreneurial competition amongst PhDs and call it Academia.edu.

As we are well aware, this networking of everyone and everything (and every place) and hence every experience, has resulted in the amassing of an unprecedented amount of wealth by a very few people. For example, as Nicholas Lemann reports in his absolutely chilling New Yorker profile of Reid Hoffman (CEO of LinkedIn), Instagram sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012 when it only had 13 employees. As we are also aware, most of these new social media companies generate little-to-no actual revenue. Their value at this point lies in the extent of the networks that they create. To the extent that we create profiles on these sites, sign-in and post content, is the extent to which we feed this market and generate this value for them. But we must also realize that precisely to the extent that we are increasingly networked is the extent to which we are increasingly starved of  a shared sense of things. Slowly and amicably.

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