The concept of ‘ownership’ has drastically changed in the last 10 years. While baby boomers lived their lives thinking that owning more means having better lives, millennials and Gen Zs alike seem to be looking at life differently. The less you own, the fewer strings attached, which gives us more agility in terms of what we want to do with our lives. While the ultimate outcome of this way of life is not yet clear, there seems to be real credit in the idea of owning less as we move forward. What if you could have everything without owning anything?
You have a drill to make holes. But what you actually need is not the dill per-se, but rather just the hole that it makes. Therefore the drill is just a tool for you to be able to achieve the thing that you need which is a hole. After you’ve had your hole, your drill then becomes an idle tool until the next time you need another hole. What if you never needed to own a drill in the first place and just ‘bought’ the hole? Simply rent the drill for a period of time and return it after use. Essentially, you only spend on making a hole instead of paying full price for a drill, which you barely use throughout the year. Other people can use the same drill for their own needs, maximizing the product’s potential. After the product has reached its limit, it will be returned to the manufacturer for disassembly or remanufacturing.
This is the idea of usership. It is a different way of looking at ownership, from the possession of physical goods to paying for its service or use, which can be done through a sharing or subscription type of system. For millennials and Gen Zs alike, we’ve surely experienced businesses in usership models; Netflix, Spotify, Grab, Airbnb. These are some companies that have actually shifted our ownership culture by selling access instead of products. Netflix allows us to access movies and series without owning a single DVD. Spotify allows us to listen to a huge library of music without owning a single CD. Grab gives us the convenience of having a private driver and car without paying for a mortgage. Airbnb allows us to experience having a home in a city far away from our own.
Since around 2012, there has been a shift from the predominant model of using goods from ownership to temporary usage, which may be attributed to the rising cost of basic commodities and stagnant wages. Its popularity is also enabled by the growing number of smartphone users, making these products and services more accessible, convenient, and affordable. It does make sense even from an ecological perspective, because if things are shared, a product can be maximized better, lessening the number of raw materials used to make new products and lessening the chances of it being disposed of right away.
With the effects of the COVD-19 pandemic looming into our new normal, along with unemployment, limited access to basic necessities and the continued effects of climate change, could this usership model be our new way of moving forward? Maybe, but not anytime soon.
Sharing of resources and participating in community life should be the future of how we consume things instead of being obsessed with material possessions. Clearly, humans are consuming more than what nature can provide, causing a myriad of world problems such as dried up lands, polluted rivers, deforestation, among others. All these environmental problems in turn lead to hunger, poverty, and inequality. When we see so much food being thrown while more than half of the world is hungry, when people enjoy disposable fashion while so many do not have adequate clothing, when there are resources such as metals that do not rot yet we continuously mine for, there is not a supply (of finished goods) problem but a systematic one. Therefore, there are systems that need to be broken and rebuilt so that we may be led to a path towards a better future.
Let us imagine usership and sharing models in larger scopes, in more industries, and in new possibilities. If usership and sharing become the standard, then every product can be maximized to its full potential. When ‘ownership’ is taken from the consumer’s hands, the responsibility of disposal goes back to the companies and manufacturers. Therefore, companies will have to make sure the products they put out are durable enough to last several uses rather than manufacturing for obsolescence. Localizing manufacturing instead of solely relying on global supply chains can also increase a county’s per capita, increase employment, and make product remanufacturing easier. Consumers on the other hand will become more mindful of the things they use and consume, with better respect and understanding of each person’s role in a community.
While a vaccine is not yet in sight, it will be difficult to sell the idea of sharing products within the community. People should take precautions and be wary of the things they touch because the virus is invisible. But the glimpse of hope we all hold onto is that this will not last forever and that at some point in time, there will be a vaccine. Someday maybe in a year or two, maybe even 10, we can go back to enjoying physical presence instead of fearing it. Someday we will enjoy the beauty of community living rather than in isolation. That someday will come, and we have to make sure it is one that we ought it to be.