Interview — Dave Boyle

Dave Boyle is the director of Community Shares Company. He has worked on some of the UK’s highest profile share issues and he’s also advised on Community Share issues at Exeter Street Hall, Bevendean Co-op Pub, Sheffield Local TV and Lewes Football Club. 

What are the current discussions surrounding the ‘sharing economy’ that interest you, and why?

It’s always been about the tension between the notion of sharing as a human activity that happens outside markets, and the economic trend of the last 30 years for rent-seeking by capital colonising the previously non-financial.

The sharing economy could be a way for the human values to push back against the financial, or vice-versa.

The driver of this tension is the fact that the platforms driving the understanding of the sharing economy seem to be pretending to be about fulfilling human potential (enabling friendship, interaction etc.), when they’re far more driven by returning capital to their investors.

What can we learn about collaboration from the ‘sharing economy’?

I’m not sure we can learn beyond the banal — human society has always been about collaboration, and so it was always understood that introducing opportunities for that collaboration to happen at a greater scale, and with greater connectivity was going to be exciting.

The main thing I take from it, is that the experiments in micro-consumption are still — at the first time of use, in any case — a leap of faith, in which trust outweighs fear. For all the technology being these platforms, what makes them work most is that people are prepared to trust that the person with whom they’ll rideshare, borrow consumables, spend time under the same roof as — are not axe murderers or egregious liars. They’re people who take a chance that other people are like them, and not the worst versions of us. That optimism about each other is the essential element of change and hope, as someone who thinks we need lots of both, the sharing economy is like a crazily large experiment that has shown we’re able to trust each other.

How can we employ the ‘sharing economy’ to empower urban communities?

The original idea of making better utilisation of scarce resources takes on a more depressing vibe in an era of inequality and austerity, but cities are better placed to use the potential of the sharing economy to provide the means to better consume on a finite planet, using technology to recreate trust-based networks for sharing that are taken for granted in smaller, less dense communities, as well as collaborating in ways that make it possible to find a civic means to problem solve which doesn’t require appeals upwards, be that to hierarchical political authorities and corporations.

What is the future of the ‘sharing economy’?

I still think the original, almost meme-like quality of the ability to better utilise scarce resources, to disintermediate, to organise ourselves remains valid, but has been lost behind a new vibe of micro-economic transactions, in which corporations from Facebook to Google to Uber and AirBnB colonise and exploit human relationships to build enormous enterprises which — and this can’t be denied — creates something of value, of utility, but does so in an unnecessarily exploitative way.

It was said in the early days of the internet that the people who would make money were the equivalent of the people who sold pick axes to California goldrush prospectors — the value was in the hardware, as the software would make losers out of many.

“The ‘sharing economy’ poster children are the already wealthy taking the nuggets.”

The new truth is that our relationships are being mined for gold, and we’re giving the pick axes and the labour for free, and the ‘sharing economy’ poster children are the already wealthy taking the nuggets. It doesn’t have to be this way.

You can follow Dave Boyle on Twitter.