It’s a Saturday evening, and the year is 2072.
Lounging in my anti-gravity chair, I hold up my hand and watch the home screen of my communicator materialize out of thin air. The words “what would you like to do” appear on this opaque surface, ready to compute any desire I have.
I feel particularly productive. Nonchalantly, I say, “Laundry, order pizza and buy my mom a birthday present.”
My communicator displays “processing requests” and within minutes, a wash bot whirrs past with a bag of dirty laundry.
“Bing!” The oven goes off, and I smell pepperoni and sausage wafting from the kitchen. My communicator pings, bringing up a list of possible birthday presents for my mom. Sifting through the list, I pick one, approve the purchase and see – via a live cam – a gift bot deliver the present to my mom’s door.
As I close my hand, the screen disappears with a “whoosh,” and I make my way to the kitchen for dinner.
Sound a little far-fetched? Maybe it is. But if we look at where we are today, the science-fiction feel of the scenario may not be a thing of the distant future.
The so-called sharing economy, in which people are sharing goods and services with each other via their mobile devices, is booming, and fast. Although it may be peer-to-peer now, the advances in technology will turn the sharing economy into one driven by technology, more so than what we have today.
Always wanted to see that one Broadway show, but don’t have enough money to pay for a hotel? Airbnb lets you, essentially, couch surf with a host.
Craving authentic Mexican food? You can order food on Feastly, and someone will make you a home-cooked Mexican dish that you can eat in the chef’s home when it’s ready.
If you’re getting tired of your American friends and want to talk to someone more exotic, Wayfare lets you do just that. The app will let you talk to people across the globe, eventually leading to meet-ups in other countries.
All of these possibilities for new cultural experiences and new friendships can happen with your smartphone as the medium, which is great. But what happens when the feeling of experiencing something new begins to fade and people keep expecting the immediacy and ease of acquiring goods and services?
Earlier this year, the Nielsen Company asked people on the Internet what they thought of the sharing economy and got 30,000 responses from around the globe. Sixty-eight percent said they would like to participate in the sharing economy. Whether food, transportation or doing laundry, people are adopting this new mentality of “sharing is caring.”
Despite this seemingly positive outlook for humanity finally getting the gist of what it means to share, it may end up proving more difficult than intended.
Taxi companies have already seen a decline in profits and revenues because of Uber and Lyft in San Francisco. Apartment complexes in New York have tried to prevent the growth of what they deem illegal hotels with the rise of Airbnb.
On top of this, data is gathered on everyone who uses these sharing services, raising privacy concerns. That happened when an Uber executive threatened to track journalists.
John Breyault, National Consumers League vice president, said these sharing services provide a sense of immediacy. Consumers are slowly accepting this as a norm, which is “unrealistic.”
Having the ability to attain anything we want at the touch of our fingertips can seem like a good thing, but the farther we go down that proverbial rabbit hole, the easier it will be to forget why these services started in the first place.
Instead of sharing goods peer-to-peer to experience the culture, the sharing economy will eventually become an economy in which physical interaction won’t be necessary anymore.
Society has already thought about and created easier ways to get things done – building drones and robots to fight wars, delivering packages, driving cars, dispensing cash and greeting guests at hotels.
These sharing services are not about sharing as much as they are to strengthen the dependency on technology. The future of that dependency is inevitable, and as long as technology continues to advance – in an attempt to make life easier for everyone – we will live life the same way we organize our Netflix queues.