No Filter : Cadre Consumption (Collaborative Consumption in SA)

  No Filter” is a new feature in my blog that I want to use as a platform for unfettered, flow state articles. I want to publish ideas off-the-cuff and hopefully spark a conversation or flesh them out at a later stage.

South Africans by in large love to consume, spend, with individual borrowing pegged at around 86% and a persistently low saving rate. We love having things, and nobody is going to tell us we can’t flourish. In our politely cynical way we never forget to say “thank you ANC.”

If we are going to consume our way to our grave or debt counseling, should we perhaps consider a better, more economically efficient way to go about our country’s favourite pastime? There is a way to consume productively, and that is consuming through collaboration.

Collaborative consumption isn’t a new concept and was first discussed by Felson and Spaeth in a 1978 paper titled “Community Structure and Collaborative Consumption. A Routine Activity”. Simply put, it’s the notion of socializing and consuming; having a night out with friends, hitting on the girl at the bar while your wingman leads her “We-need-to-leave”, arm-jerking friend into the fires of Mordor; sharing bed & breakfast with your new lady friend; raising the baby together, or finding out after this long winded sentence that your wingman played frontman a few times and you weren’t just sharing economic goods. Anyway, if you’re still here, it’s the idea that the very selfish desire to consume can be counterweighted by collectivism.

“It will never work” they said before Al Gore invented the internet. The idea of sharing is met with much resistance, it is quite objectionable that a value we spend years instilling into children would work for adults who understand its value – luckily you aren’t really sharing. I prefer the term collaborative consumption to describe business models like Uber or Airbnb designed for what others may call the “Sharing Economy”, because you aren’t really sharing are you? In fact, Airbnb gives you the perfect reason not to let your good mate crash in your spare bedroom “for a week tops” – while a tourist can free up some extra money to take an Uber to the local craft market. The access to the internet has made this new model a reality.

I propose South Africans adopt the term “Cadre Consumption” – the substitute being synonymous to what has been the savvy politician’s way of staying on the gravy train. The collaborative economy has less sinister intention, it rather moves us towards a resource-saving mode of consumption which also creates a collective ownership of the product. There are two things which are distinctly different to how we currently consume, and where the millennial winds are blowing:

  1. Things and Us need to get a divorce : studies show now more than ever, young people don’t like to commit – to jobs that may be disrupted into obsolence nor a smartphone they will be embarrassed to use in public in a year’s time. The hallmark of our time is flux, facilitated by the Internet pervasion and emergence of Big Data. To own is to commit, to a debt and a future of being ineligible for new software upgrades. This isn’t doing away with property rights, but spreading your exposure to disruption across the market for goods. It’s freelancing and being able to do what you love without reciting the corporate six pillar or filing for vacation days.
  2. “Target Marketing” is no longer an excuse to leave people behind: I plan to write a piece on inclusive innovation later. But more businesses have realised the danger in excluding the Bottom-of-the-Pyramid (BoP) when planning a new product. If they must, BoP consumers move up. When they move higher  they don’t suddenly acquire a taste for lobster, they’ll carry that prior rejection with them to the till. Besides that, leaving behind the BoP means deepening the gap between rich and poor – a precursor to economic and political instability.

We won’t be sharing girlfriends, unless that’s what you’re into, but we will be using our resources more efficiently and sustainably. Looking at the state of our country and the planet, something has to change. What’s a little consumption among friends?

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