A countercultural action or expression communicates disagreement, opposition, disobedience or rebellion. A counterculture rejects or challenges mainstream culture or particular elements of it… In the 20th century, countercultural points of view were commonly expressed as action. Often physical materials such as flyers, magazines and independent newspapers were originally meant to serve immediate, sometimes urgent, purposes: to promote action, gather support or inspire change.
(British Library, 2015)
When comparing the present networked society with counterculture of the past, one can argue that the issue of narcissism, identity and the self on the internet overpowers positive movements and communities (Buffardi and Campbell, 2008). However, through analysing the success and engagement in the sharing economy, it is evident that the legacy of pre-internet counterculture has continued through the embrace of contemporary networked societies (Brown, 2013 and 2014).
Airbnb and Uber have taken the world by storm – rooted by the ever-popular sharing economy and collaborative consumption of resources (Brown, 2013 and 2014). As outlined by Glipin, traditional models of ownership are changing – sharing economies are utilising social technologies to allow users to share resources, goods, services and even skills (2014). Results show that participation in collaborative consumption is motivated by many factors such as its sustainability, enjoyment of the activity as well as economic gain (Hamari, Sjöklint and Ukkonen, 2015).
Founded in 2008, the room letting website Airbnb promises economic gain for all parties involved: it has a valuation of over $20 billion having dealt with 40 million guests so far, hosts are charged only 3% of the booking’s value to cover the company’s costs (Hutchinson, 2015), and guests pay an average of 30-80% less than available hotels (Brown, 2014).
While this proves the popularity and main motivation of collaboration and sharing through the startup, there are many other factors working together to ensure the reliability and success of a sharing economy.
In her TED Talk, Rachel Botsman, author of What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, says that ‘the real magic behind collaborative consumption marketplaces like Airbnb isn’t the inventory or the money. It’s using the power of technology to build trust between strangers’ (2010).
Trust is also a integral part of participating in Uber as both a driver and a passenger. Established in 2009, the controversial private transportation service completely redefined an industry, consequently changing the way people consider deep-rooted habits and beliefs (Brown, 2013). Uber’s engagement with modern technology was key – its smartphone app integrated with Google maps ensures a fluid experience between driver and rider with the ability to track how far away the cars are. Transparency and trust is built around the passenger’s ability to see their driver’s information (including ratings) before they even arrive, a system that starkly contrasts with that of traditional taxis (Brown, 2013).
Although the consumer base for sharing economy companies such as Airbnb and Uber continues to grow, so does the controversy that surrounds them. Traditional businesses such as taxis and hotels are complaining that these newcomers have an unfair advantage by ducking oversight that’s meant to protect consumers and the relatively new technologies that drive the sharing economy have put many transactions outside the purview of regulators (Marshall, 2015). While cities issue taxi medallions to a limited number of service providers, they struggle to control drivers connecting to passengers using Uber. In relation to the licensing and taxing of hotels, a way to manage and monitor homeowners and companies renting through the sharing-economy website Airbnb is yet to be developed (Marshall, 2015).
Nevertheless, the internet still remains an innovative means for building coalition. When reflecting on the information revolution and its impact on contemporary society, collaborative consumption plays a large part in the resurrection and redefinition of community life (Howcroft & Fitzgerald, 1998). Counterculture has always brought people together, evidently the virtual context of the networked society is more flexible and durable than physically situated communities due to the ongoing availability of resources and continuous communication (Shumar & Renninger, 2002).
It can be predicted that the worldwide debate behind the legality of Airbnb and Uber will soon come to an end as ‘the ‘unacceptability’ of any countercultural expression is always short-lived. Sooner or later avant-garde aesthetics are embraced by the producers and consumers of mainstream culture and absorbed into the ‘normal’’ (British Library, 2015). Therefore, as long as participation in collaborative consumption and the sharing economy continues to boom, the networked society remains a platform that brings us together as a community in innovative new ways.
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