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From me culture to we culture

Written By: - Date published: 10:30 am, December 27th, 2012 - 49 comments
Categories: business, cost of living, economy, sustainability - Tags:

This morning I saw a report on Al Jazeera News on TV, about the rise of shared consumption in Europe.  The main focus was an a rent-a-present service operating in France.  Children are seen opening Christmas presents that have been rented for a a few months.  At that time, the toys will be exchanged for different ones.  This makes sense because after a few months children often get bored with their Christmas presents.

The Al Jazeera report claimed that a new culture of shared consumption was taking off across Europe, in a shift from “me culture” to one of “we culture”.  This includes practices like car sharing to the sharing of most kinds of consumer goods.

I couldn’t find the report on Al Jazeera, but I did find this article in the November 2012 Guardian about collaborative consumption.

Antonin Léonard hasn’t had a “proper” job since April. This isn’t because he lacks the relevant skills or right temperament. Quite the opposite. The 25-year-old Frenchman holds an MBA, speaks several languages and writes one of the most-read business blogs in France.

No, he doesn’t have a conventional job because he’s all about turning convention on its head.

Paris-based Antonin is one of a growing tribe of sharers. His present curriculum vitae includes descriptions such as “couchsurfer”, “carpooler”, “co-worker” and “skillsharer”. Founder of the online “think tank and do tank”OuiShare, he currently makes his money giving talks and workshops around Europe about the sharing economy.

In the article, Rachel Botsman explains that collaborative consumption is the revival of an old way of doing things.  She says.:

“Basically, we are reinventing things that we used do in village squares – share, barter, rent, swap – but we can do them in ways that are relevant to the Facebook age,” she explains.

Those “things” include buying stuff. The classic example is enterprises such as Zipcar and Whipcar. Instead of paying up-front to purchase their own car, people are tapping into online networks that enable them to rent or share a car as and when they need one.

Where the sharing economy is really taking off, however, is in the exchange of “intangible assets”, such as skills, spaces, time and money, says Botsman: “These are the fastest-growing segments because they are the easiest to make liquid and to share.”


I like the shift to a collaborative way of doing things, and that it involves cutting back on consumption.  However, it seems to me that the focus on “consumption” makes it a limiting practice. No wonder some big businesses like Marks and Spencer and big car brands are getting into it.  It also isn’t a lot different from what happens on Trade Me.  Right now many people are re-cycling unwanted presents, as reported by Trade Me:

More than 20,000 items had landed on Trade Me since lunchtime on Christmas Day, and spokesman Paul Ford said the online marketplace provided people with an opportunity to recycle a gift, and make some pocket money along the way.

The above linked Guardian article does indicate ways that collaborative culture spills over into collaborative production, such as with crowd-sourced funding for projects, as facilitated by the likes of Kickstarter.  The article claims that with the shift to collaborative consumption attitudes are changing, so that individual ownership is less important.  This is a shift that is happening for some people, while others still value ownership and have negative attitudes to recycled stuff.

Furthermore, the shift to collaborative culture may just be a pragmatic adjustment to new resource-scarce realities by some capitalists.  Such a limited shift is just putting off a potential economic collapse to a later date. A bigger shift to collaborative production and living is required to ensure a livable future for all our children.



Do you know of any collaborative living practices happening in New Zealand? These could be practices of collaborative consumption, collaborative production, or daily living activities.

How could such practices be encouraged?  The Guardian article says that new technologies of mobile phones, websites and related apps are a key part of the revival in practices of sharing.

[update] Link to Al Jazeera video added.




49 comments on “From me culture to we culture”

  1. Small bits of content which are explained in details, helps me understand the topic, thank you!

  2. Polish Pride 2

    “The article claims that with the shift to collaborative consumption attitudes are changing, so that individual ownership is less important.” – Brilliant ….a new and much better world is beginning to emerge. I see so many new signs of this every week.

  3. Bill 3

    Do you know of any collaborative living practices happening in New Zealand?

    I used to be somewhat familiar with some intentional communities in the S. Island who would probably lay claim to being ‘collaborative’. Problem was that (in most places) they held onto their individual market relations, ie jobs and whatever were predicated on earning an individual income and houses or homes were the private property of individuals. In the end and in most cases I was aware of, preserving aspects of orthodox individualism weakened or undercut any move towards greater collaboration.

    • karol 3.1

      Can there be small initiatives that lead the way to culture change, away from individual ownership. It’s certainly what is being claimed in the Guardian article. It also is possible that the current economic context may drive such a culture change.

      However, the focus is still too much on individualised production, and choice of which collaborative consumption item to select. Truly collaborative endeavours are less evident.

      • Bill 3.1.1

        I have my doubts about the long term viability of small initiatives in general although…I fully acknowledge that something seemingly small and insignificant can gain legs and momentum and ‘change the game’.

        Legislation already exists for establishing housing co-ops and so on. And they have been formed in NZ. But…it’s that old problem of the power inherent to the dominant culture eventually undermining, subsuming or rolling back whatever has been gained.

        The trick is not to stop once you get going I guess. Never stand still. Keep broadening and deepening whatever it is you started.

        Said before. But the only situation I came across that sustained itself against the dominant market culture was a worker/housing collective I belonged to in N England that had no individual income and no private property (ie, housing). Effectively we were all buffered from ‘individual versus market’ relations and so could get on with developing decent ways of living and interacting without the distraction and worry of ‘earning a crust’ as individuals.

  4. ochocinco 4

    We’ll know we have actually got a “we” culture rather than a “me” culture when people stop abandoning NZ for 40 pieces of silver in Aussie or the UK

    … I’m not holding my breath (and considering Labour has never condemned those economic traitors, perhaps even the left doesn’t get it)

    • One Tāne Viper 4.1

      They aren’t treacherous, they’re just adapting to the conditions.

      • ochocinco 4.1.1

        How is someone going overseas to earn more money ANY DIFFERENT to a fat-cat capitalist business owner finding a low-tax environment to put his head office?

        It’s exactly the same self-centred capitalist approach and I’m disgusted even The Standard has no issues with it.

    • Crimson Nile 4.2

      The economic traitors are the ones who exported our jobs, not the workers who followed those jobs.

      • halfcrown 4.2.1

        “The economic traitors are the ones who exported our jobs, not the workers who followed those jobs.”

        That is an excellent response, and so bloody true

      • ochocinco 4.2.2

        True, but workers should stay in NZ regardless.
        Helping NZ grow is more important than self-enrichment, even if it means working a shitty job here rather than a great job in Australia

        Leftism means thinking of the country first, not the individual

        • Hanswurst

          No it doesn’t. That’s patriotism or nationalism. It’s perfectly possible to go overseas and remain “left”, in fact the left and society in general benefit from people from different backgrounds bringing fresh ideas and perspectives. There can be both left and right wing reasons for emigrating, but emigration in itself is neither one nor the other.

  5. Dr Terry 5

    ochocinco. This is manner of thinking about people leaving the country is bizarre. Clearly it is a Biblical reference, so let me suggest that those looking to a future abroad may be, rather, following the journeys of “the Three Wise Men”?

    • ochocinco 5.1

      The whole concept of leftism is altruism. The collective over the individual. People who abandon NZ for their own enrichment are just the same as companies who flee NZ or USA or Australia to find lower tax environments. We need to do what’s best for NZ even if it’s not the best for us.

      Otherwise we’re just Randian objectivists with a facade over the top. SELFISHNESS IS NOT LEFT WING

  6. Hilary 6

    Libraries. (Book, music and toy libraries)

    Transition towns http://www.transitiontowns.org.nz/

    • weka 6.1

      Libraries? You mean those once egalitarian organisations that now operate a kind of user pays?

      • karol 6.1.1

        Yes, libraries are generally community resources, but the user-pays philosophy is an on-going threat. I remember things like Toy libraries in London in the late 70s early 80s. I hope some such things are still going. Neoliberals try to profiteer from any good community collaborative efforts.

        Excellent transition towns website, thanks Hilary. I’ve bookmarked it.

  7. ColonialPete 7

    As a librarian, I have to say this sort of thing has been done for millennia. Now of course they are subscribing to expensive databases hat individuals just cant afford. And it’s not just libraries – video and DVD rentals have been in place for years, as has equipment hire. In each case it’s material that you really only use once or twice and then return. What has been interesting is the emergence of take-a-book leave-a-book pop up libraries as part of the gapfiller project in Christchurch, but that kind of model tends to weed out the good stuff and leave unwanted material over time.

    People have used couch surfing to travel the world.

    YouTube and Vimeo are also interesting avenues where individuals are creating their own sophisticated content and putting it online. Yes, many make money through ad revenue, but I don’t think that is what motivates them to go on there in the first place. We’re social creatures and want to share our talents and help people.

  8. xtasy 8

    What I have repeatedly come across in the local paper here in Auckland is stories about kind of communal gardens being used by groups of people in various suburbs (usually the more economically and socially “depressed” ones).

    There people get together, cultivate bits of land that they seem to be able to get offered for use cheaply or even for free by the council, and they grow vegetables for their own consumption in them. Whether it is based on full sharing, or a system of where lots are subdivided into smaller growing plots, I am not sure of. But I thought this is a great idea and example of people getting together and do something constructively and healthy, to supplement their own food.

    • halfcrown 8.1

      That has been happening in the UK as long as I can remember. They were called Allotments, as the piece of land or plot was “allotted” by the local council. Very popular with competitions for the best produce etc. In London a life saver for some families during the war years

  9. KJT 9

    Employers already do this of course.
    They share slaves through outfits like Allied work force or get the collective to pay towards them with welfare such as WFF.

    • xtasy 9.1

      KJT that is really ‘social’ and “sharing” of our dear employers, is it not? I know what you are talking about, and it sickens me. Of course those “collective” businesses follow above all an agenda serving their own interests. With more outsourcing of welfare planned, there willl be a “welfare business boom’ soon, thanks to Paula Bennett!

  10. marsman 10

    My nephew’s wife organised a domestic garden fruit and vegetable sharing network in Whangarei.

  11. bad12 11

    There is in Wellington’s Newtown a ‘Skill-swap’ organization in operation where people interested can register their relative skills and be matched to swap like for like labour,

    My understanding is that it has been running for about a year and is reasonably successful, there’s a huge scope for such a service to be expanded right across all areas of expertise where those registered could ‘bank’ their contribution and for example when needing mechanical repairs on a car or appliance could ‘spend’ the hours they have banked where the mechanic or electrician would accumulate a pile of hours He or She could then use to swap for ‘other services’

    Of course the down-side to being able to accumulate ‘hours owed’ to oneself is that theoretically the person with the skills in most demand becomes the overlord of other’s by dint of having a private serfdom whose labour He or She could buy with ‘banked hours’,

    I am sure tho that a system could be put in place to avoid such a situation…

    • weka 11.1

      “Of course the down-side to being able to accumulate ‘hours owed’ to oneself is that theoretically the person with the skills in most demand becomes the overlord of other’s by dint of having a private serfdom whose labour He or She could buy with ‘banked hours’,”

      Not really following that. You don’t accumulate ‘hours owed’, you accumulate tradable credits. No-one owes anyone anything. If you want to leave the system, there is nothing you can take with you.

      The other cool think about Time Banks is that the value of the unit of time is the same for everyone. A cleaner’s hour is worth the same as a teacher’s is the same as a mechanic’s.

      Time Banks are the new Green Dollar. It’s interesting that they focus on skills rather than goods. I think ideally you need Green Dollar systems running alongside Time Banks.

      “Timebanking is based on the principle of co-production. This involves co-operating together for mutual benefit.

      Our market economy is based on people using money to exchange things. Money is useful, but markets don’t recognise most of our real value. In a market economy, “value” is based on scarcity. If something is scarce it has a high price. If something is commonly available it has a low price. Many things that people value most (e.g. caring, learning, sharing, socialising, raising children and being a good neighbour) are not valued highly in a market.”


      Transition Towns initiatives are inherently collaborative, and very much about we culture – the whole point is to develop interdependent communities that can manage the post-Peak Oil, CC, GFC etc transition well.

  12. karol 12

    Very good initatives described by xtasy, marsman, and bad12. I don’t know how people can avoid hierarchies of status developing, bad. Maybe if people were to discuss their participation in such things more, share their experiences etc, some solutions good develop?

    Actually, I’ve just followed Hilary’s link above to the NZ transition towns website. It’s forum has the potential for the kind of information sharing I was referring to.

  13. TightyRighty 13

    So basically outsourcing ownership? A good idea, why not have pay as you go user pays? I can think of many such initiatives that would work in NZ.

    • karol 13.1

      I think you’ve missed the actual idea. People working together to produce and share their stuff, is cheaper all round if some ticket-clipper is not looking to make money out of it. And there’s less resources used, when not required to keep track of said ticket-clipping.

      • TightyRighty 13.1.1

        I think you’ve missed the point actually. It’s not about people coming together, hand holding kumbaya style, that’s driving the movement. It’s enterprising individuals and companies puttin together a package that involves the crowd owning services or goods in a manner that captures utility when it might otherwise be wasted.

        • Napkins

          “It’s not about people coming together, hand holding kumbaya style”

          No such style exists, I daresay. Yes it is “enterprising”, as long as you can accept that many forms of enterprise are non-commercial, or are overtly collective in nature. Also the value of the utility may be non-commercial in nature, or at least, not-for-profit. The elimination of the ticket clipping middleman is crucial however.

          • TightyRighty

            Dream on. Somebody profits or nothing happens. Incentives, we all respond to them.

            • karol

              For some people money isn’t the main incentive. Otherwise people wouldn’t be involved in the various not-for-profit collaborative activities that people have commented on here: from NZ tansitiontowns, community gardens, etc to menz sheds.

        • McFliper

          Indeed. But shared ownership isn’t a new idea – refer to Marx.
          it’s you who decided that it was linked to user-pays.

          It seems to me that a key point of the article is that things look a lot more promising for humanity when we focus on the efficient allocation and use of a resource, rather than making profit from it. But then a satisfycing profit tends to accrue from the former, anyway.

  14. Binders full of viper- women 14

    Men’s sheds.

    • karol 14.1

      Ah, you mean those community-spirited people who have a shed full of tools and miscellaneous stuff, and help out anyone who has something needing fixing or building? Are they a dying breed?

      Also, children tend to bring people together, with parents taking turns in looking after each others kids, taking them to and from school, etc.

      • Binders full of viper- women 14.1.1

        No I meant the growing breed.. http://menssheds.org.nz/
        Looks like there are at least 39 nationwide.. community spaces where there are shared machines and tools. As everyone downsizes and so few people have sheds and tools, lots of people still want to fix old fav toys or furniture and grandparents flock to these to make toys. Having your own shed is no longer an option for so many and tools are very expensive so these places are a brainwave. There is a real sense of community as those with the skills willingly help out newbies and an interesting spin off is that they have been great ‘neutral territory’ to get people talking about and listening to health issues. I encourage any of your readers who fancy fixing or making furniture or toys to check out your local… I assume fees are minimal.

  15. Huginn all God's Vipers 15

    Thanks for this optimistic post, Karol.

    It’s reminded me of a thought proving series on the end of scarcity that came up a few months ago in the Financial Times’ Alphaville, which attempted to pick apart some of our assumptions about scarcity from the ground up:


    It might help to think about we-culture as a response to abundance, especially an abundance of time. People with time can be flexible, they can work around the needs of others, but they can also take the time to build the trusting relationships that we- cultures need.

  16. Huginn all God's Vipers 16

    The Meetup phenomenon.


  17. weka 17

    I found the trade me article depressing. That lots of people are being given so many things they neither need nor want is yet another demonstration of over-consumption and the craziness of our worlds (and it’s hard not to be thinking of how much carbon emissions are involved having read Bill’s post today). I don’t see people selling excess shit on TM as a sign of the we culture, sorry.

  18. xtasy 18

    The following link should take you to the story on Al Jazeera that Karol was referring to:


    • karol 18.1

      Thanks, xtasy. I’ve added the link to the post. I looked for the video on AJ’s site yesterday morning and couldn’t find it.

  19. xtasy 19

    From a purely economic point of view, this new “sharing” of resources and services approach can only be seen as a re-adjustment to new economic challenges, with their social consequences.

    Naturally it is good to share and use everything more efficiently and effectively.

    Economically though, this will not at all address the core issues, that include lack of growth and future planning.

    Major decisions are overdue, to address the looming energy crisis, to find solutions for the expected shortage of energy and other mineral resources.

    Sharing will become the more economic recipe for the future anyway, as scarcity will force us to rethink our whole lifestyle. The buy and turf away habits will have to go, and they will eventually.

    To achieve economic growth in future can and must be achieved by focusing on investing in the right types of growth, that is alternative energy generation and use, more prudent use of resources for all areas of life, an end to the waste of burning fossil fuels, the production of longer lasting, value products, rather than the short lived products that now dominate all we buy and sell (clothing, appliances and so forth).

    It will necessitate a radical refocus and re-balancing act, and what is going on now, with more and more of the same, to use, consume and turf away, that will become the stone age mentality and behaviour of the past.

    Sadly I see too few in NZ yet realising this, while in Europe and a few other places awareness is growing very fast.

  20. Populuxe1 20

    I am amused that you portray “me culture” and “we culture” as mutually exclusive. In reality it’s a mixed thing – people move between the two ad hoc. It’s largely about driving to suit the conditions, not adopting a particular ideology on the assumption that one size fits all always.

    • karol 20.1

      Partly, it’s s reference to how Al Jazeera framed it. But “culture” is important in that phrase – it’s about the dominant focus of the culture. It doesn’t me that an individual will not shift focus between “me” and “we” within that culture.

    • ochocinco 20.2

      And most of the so-called leftists here obviously don’t get what we-culture is, which is a self-sacrifice for a greater good, not capitalism given a coat of paint

      • Populuxe1 20.2.1

        The greater good isn’t much use unless the individual is getting something from it. Otherwise it’s just jam tomorrow. In any case “we culture” implies some sort of impossible consensus – unless that’s the royal We of fascism.

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