Access is the New Ownership... Is This Really a Good Thing?

Access is the New Ownership... Is This Really a Good Thing?

Whether or not you’ve heard of the Access Economy, chances are you’re part of it. If you stream music on Spotify or rent accommodation through Airbnb, you’re a patron of this new model of consumption that replaces permanent ownership with access to goods and services. It’s a simple premise with huge implications: in the age of things such as Netflix, Apple Music and Zipcar, we no longer need to own DVDs, CDs or cars to enjoy what they represent.

Even as part of the Millennial cohort – the supposed driving force behind this new paradigm – I’m not sure what to make of it. The mantra of the previous generation lingers in the background: work hard, buy a house, accrue things, save money for the future – very much at odds with a present-focussed model unconcerned with building assets.

Doubtless, relentless consumerism has left a nasty mark on this planet, degrading the environment and leaving us with plethora of obsolete things we rarely use… but I look at my digital content libraries, the home I rent – my treasure trove of transient things – and sometimes wonder if I’m shooting myself in the foot. These possessions aren’t truly mine, and it’s jarring to go down the road of ‘what if…’

But here’s the thing, through the sharing economy I enjoy a quality of life I would never be able to afford in terms of ownership. I have access to an infinite pool of music and films. I am able to live in central London. I can’t afford to buy and maintain car, but I can use one if need to. My life is richer because I can experience more. It’s said that us Millennials in particular value experiences over things, a study by Eventbrite noting: For this group, happiness isn’t as focused on possessions or career status. Living a meaningful, happy life is about creating, sharing and capturing memories earned through experiences that span the spectrum of life’s opportunities.

But what about saving for the future? Well, maybe as a society we’re somewhat beyond that now – and frankly, that’s no bad thing. The saving mentality didn’t exactly work out perfectly for our parents and grandparents; pension losses and financial crises only serve to highlight that maybe there’s a better way of doing things.

I never wanted to live my life saving up for a future I can enjoy when I retire – why not enjoy life to the full now? The sharing economy is empowering in that it allows us to live in and enjoy the moment, giving us quality, variety and convenience in the here and now. And, like it or not, the financial reality is that most of the younger generation will never make it onto the property ladder; wages have been stagnant (and even shrinking) for decades. This, coupled with a renewed embrace of experiences, creates fertile ground for significant changes in the way we live.

Access being the new ownership is not the end point of a paradigm shift, but hopefully the beginning. In this time of transition, we are still very much in the teething stage, trying to balance an experience-oriented market alongside a need to build personal financial security through ownership and investment. But, again, this is only the beginning.

Once we’ve accepted that we’re in an era of change, and that there was a lot that was wrong with old models, we can design new systems that give people what they really want. This is what The Collective have done with their new Old Oak co-living development, championing a way of living that facilitates memorable, connected experiences on a daily-basis – that’s why I applied to work for them. I was also curious, and admittedly even a little dubious, about how this mentality worked in practice.

It’s difficult to quantify what the price of rent gets you at Old Oak, but it’s certainly more than a bed in a room: there are weekly networking and social events, access to fantastic shared spaces and facilities – you become part of something that’s worth talking about. I’m excited to see how Old Oak – and co-living in general – takes off in this new world.

Is the sharing economy perfect? Not yet, but it’s a sign of exciting times. We have become more connected with one another, are able to live more in the moment – these are no small leaps forward.


Written by Grace Waters

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