Patni: Today’s sharing economy will shape our future


Tanisha Patni, Columnist

Looking around Northwestern, I notice students interviewing with Airbnb and getting job offers at Uber. I see alumni successfully turning profits off of companies that serve as intermediaries, making use of objects that already exist rather than inventing new ones. This recent unprecedented rise in the so-called “sharing economy” is not just defining our careers, but also actively reshaping our daily lives and even our mental approach toward consumption.

I was in the elevator of my apartment building the other day when the girl behind me said to her friend, “Don’t judge me, but I’m probably just gonna call an Uber to class if I miss this shuttle.” I could fake acting surprised, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t taken an Uber to class before. And I’m sure many of us are guilty of it. When I went to Turkey over spring break last year, I used Airbnb to find two separate places to stay with nine friends in Istanbul for an entire week. These services are so unbelievably easy (and cheap) to use that it’s now second nature for me to call an Uber or Lyft to get around or to check Airbnb if I’m going to New York for the weekend. Hotels seem to be an outdated, expensive option.

Shockingly, these names were barely heard on campus just three years ago when I was a freshman. I’d take the El to Chicago, and if I got stranded at Howard late at night after the purple line stopped running, I would have to call a Norshore cab back to Evanston. I’d wait on hold for an agent to answer, tell them my location and destination and then wait, without a GPS tracker, for the cab to reach me. Now that entire process seems medieval.

The sharing economy, also known as collaborative consumption, centers on the premise of using existing resources for a limited time instead of buying new, usually expensive, ones. Prime examples of this are using someone else’s car or home when it is unused or someone else’s labor or time for one-off jobs or other services.

The poster child of the sharing economy is Airbnb, which allows travelers to rent a room, boat or even an entire British castle out to others more easily and cheaply than ever before. Lyft and Uber, every NU student’s best friends, are ride-sharing companies where regular people provide rides on demand in their personal cars.

The greatest aspect of the sharing economy is that it is accessible to everyone, regardless of age, social status or race. It’s no mystery why the peer-to-peer sharing economy has seen unprecedented growth on both the demand and supply sides: It is convenient, easy to use and inexpensive. The effect of this phenomenon has been disruptive, making us rethink our approach to using products and services as a whole. It also has future implications on efficiency and collaboration. We are simultaneously changing the way we spend money while redefining the future of consumption. What does it mean for earning money? Can renting out your apartment become your job?

These changes can be observed even on NU’s campus as we buy each other’s textbooks and beds and sublet each other’s rooms. Our generation is central in driving this movement of greater collaboration, innovation and efficiency forward. Although these changes are still relatively nascent today, we are just a few years from an even more enhanced sharing economy. The scale of this economy has the ability to transform the ways in which we consume and use, massively changing the way we live.

Tanisha Patni is a Weinberg senior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.