Baby, You Can Drive My Car, and Do My Errands, and Rent My Stuff…

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from TIME Magazine,

He seemed nice enough–a little sweaty from walking up the hill to my house, but I’ve got faux-leather seats that are easy to wipe clean. I’m renting it to him for $27 a day through RelayRides, a company that facilitated my transition from “dude with a car” to “competitor with Hertz.” The French guy visited me a day early on a practice walk to make sure he could find my place, which is tucked away up a bunch of steep, winding roads. When I saw his sweaty face, I just gave him the keys to my yellow Mini Cooper convertible instead of having him hike back the next day. He returned the car with a full tank and left $27 in cash in an envelope to pay me for the extra day, even though I told him not to. Afterward, the French guy and I rated each other five out of five on the RelayRides app. It was the most successful American-French exchange since the Louisiana Purchase.

A few years ago, the idea of giving some stranger my car seemed as idiotic as my lovely wife Cassandra thought it was when I handed over my keys. In 2008, the concept of building a business out of letting strangers stay in your house was so preposterous, Airbnb was rejected by almost every venture capitalist it pitched itself to, and even the people who wound up investing in it thought it was unlikely to succeed. Now an average of 425,000 people use it every night worldwide, and the company is valued at $13 billion, almost half the value of 96-year-old Hilton Worldwide, which owns actual real estate. Five-year-old Uber, which gets people to operate as cabdrivers using their own vehicles, is valued at $41.2 billion, making it one of the 150 biggest companies in the world–larger than Delta, FedEx or Viacom. There are at least 10,000 companies in the sharing economy, allowing people to run their own limo services, hotels, restaurants, kennels, bridal-dress-lending outfits and yard-equipment-rental services, all while they work as part-time assistants, house cleaners and personal shoppers if they want.

To get here, we needed eBay, PayPal and Amazon, which made it safe to do business on the web. We needed Apple and Google to provide GPS and Internet-enabled phones that make us always reachable and findable. We needed Facebook, which made people more likely to actually be who they say they are. And we needed the Great Recession, with its low-wage, jobless recovery, which made us ask ourselves how many possessions we really need and how much extra we could make on the side. The sharing economy–which isn’t about sharing so much as ruthlessly optimizing everything around us and delivering it at the touch of a button–is the culmination of all our connectivity, our wealth, our stuff.

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