Rachel Botsman – Collaborative Consumption
The fact is that we're just in the nascent stages of a collaborative revolution. Ideas from
Etsy to Ebay to Netflix to StreetCar are built on communities of trust, and they're starting to
reinvent not just what we consume, but how we consume – and are part of this bigger
cultural paradigm shift – from a culture of me, to a culture of we.
Now, when you think about it, over the past decade or so, we've actually wired our world to
share. I've been thinking a lot about the digital sharing evolution and I think I've finally
simplified it down into four key stages. In the first phase, we figured out how to use
technology to connect and share information. So think about software code, and emails,
and Wikipedia. In the second phase, we used the same technology to connect or
reconnect with people. So think about social networks like MySpace and Facebook. We're
just seeing how the third phase – the sharing of music, news, photos and videos – is
reinventing entire industries. Now what I've seen, is that at turbo-charged speed, we're
actually already entering the fourth phase – where we're using the same technology to
connect and share all other kinds of assets – cars, time, money – and we're not just
sharing, we're trading, we're bartering, we're renting. But these very old market behaviours
are being reinvented in ways that are relevant for the Facebook age.
People often ask me - “Why now? Why is it emerging now?” Well, it actually comes down
to four key drivers. The first is a renewed belief in the importance of community. Now, if
you take a look around you, you've probably noticed there's a resurgence in book clubs,
knitting clubs, street parties, community gardens, the return of local shops. These are
actually all heartening signs that once again we are turning to each other. Let's take
farmers' markets. The resurgence of farmers' markets is, yes, people want fresh local
produce, but it's also the start of a backlash against mass anonymous produced goods.
When I buy a piece of cheese, I want to know the person behind it, I want to know the
story behind it. And what I'm actually seeking is participation. When you go to a farmers'
market, you have nine times the amount of conversations than at a traditional
Now, I know that farmers' markets and Facebook may not seem like they have a lot in
common, but they actually do, because what we're trying to do is feed the social self, the
side of us that seeks connection and belonging, and has actually been numbed out in this
massive age of hyper individualism that we've been living in. And, of course, connected to
this is a torrent of social technologies.
Now, the last two factors are big global contextual factors. There's obviously pressing
unresolved environmental concerns. Now, I think we all rationally know that a consumer
system that is built on selling more stuff is a house of cards, it's all one big Ponzi scheme.
And Thomas Friedman put it brilliantly when he said “2008 is when we hit the wall. When
Mother Nature and the market both said – enough”.
The fourth driver linked to this is actually a global recession that has shocked consumer
behaviours and led to a questioning of the health of the consumer system in all dimensions
of the word. I can't turn on the television these days without some debate on happiness,
you know, and I was reading the paper this morning about the happiness index, and
Joseph Stiglitz, he put it brilliantly when he said “for so many individuals, what's important
to them cannot be measured by GDP.
So, as we start to figure how we can get off this consumer escalator, I think we're starting
to reinvent the meaning of more. And my prediction is that, if for the past 50 years, the
baby boomers, my parents' generation, were driven by keeping up with the Joneses, our
generation is going to be all about getting to know and connecting the Joneses.
These four drivers are coming together and they are creating this big shift – away from the
twentieth century defined by hyper-consumption, towards the twenty-first century, a new
era of collaborative consumption.
I actually believe that we're going to look back, and we're going to see this period as a
momentous turning point, when we used the incredible technological power that we have
to re-shape the kind of society we want. Indeed, I think it's going to be called a revolution –
when society, faced with very grave challenges, woke up from this humungous hangover
of emptiness and waste, and made a seismic leap from being defined not by what we
consume but what we contribute, and along the way, empowered millions of people,
including us, to play a larger role in building a stronger healthier future.
David Brooks – The Social Animal
My country, our leaders went into Iraq on the supposition – sort of oblivious to the cultural
and psychological realities of Iraq. I once asked a senior member of the Bush
administration (I can't tell you who she is... but she...) I asked her “didn't you guys get the
culture and psychology of Iraq wrong?” and she said “I don't really believe in culture. I think
if you change the institutions you change the society”. And that is the correct political
science answer, it just doesn't happen to be the correct answer.
And then we had a financial system based on the supposition that bankers are prudent,
rational, self-interested creatures who would never do anything stupid en masse. That
turned out not to be true.
And the issue I care most about in the US, and I think here too, we've had thirty years of
education reform, all of which has had disappointing results, because in general it has
skirted the core issue, which is the individual relationship between a teacher and a
student. And people learn from people they love, but if you mention the word “love” at a
congressional hearing they look at you like you're, you know, Oprah Winfrey or something
like that – it's just not the way you talk.
And so I decided that you had the most socially attuned people on earth leading,
sometimes conducting policy that was completely oblivious to who people really are. And I
decided this was not only a political problem but a wider cultural problem. That we have
inherited a view of ourselves that we're “divided selves”. We have reason over here and
emotion over here. And if anything they're on a teeter-totter – that if reason is up then
emotion is down, or vice versa. And society advances to the extent that reason can
suppress the passions.
And so this has created methodologies of studying human behaviour that try to use the
methodologies of physics to do social science, which emphasise the things we can count
and measure, and which amputate all the rest. It's created a culture in which we're very
good at talking about material things, pretty bad at talking about emotion; very good when
we're raising our kids to emphasise skills, but very bad at talking about the most important
thing which is character. And some of the shallow moral philosophy. Alasdair MacIntyre,
the great philosopher said we have words like “courage”, “honour” and “virtue”, but we
don't really have systems that link these three things together.
And so while I'm covering some of this imperfect view of human nature, I'm looking over at
this other world, the world that RSA is in, and I'm seeing people that are actually giving us
profounder answers to what's going on deep inside ourselves. And the odd thing is, this
world is not primarily led by philosophers and theologians, but it's led by people who study
the mind – cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, behavioural
And the odd thing is, this world is not led primarily by philosophers and theologians, but it’s
led by people who study the mind - cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, psychologists,
sociologists, behavioural economists. And, you know I believe we’re in the middle of this
tremendous revolution in understanding who we are, deep down inside. And I think a lot of
this research in all these different fields coheres around three foundational principles. And
the first foundational principle is that most of our thinking is below conscious awareness,
it’s unconscious. And that the conscious mind does maybe 2% of our cognition. But one of
the things we’re finding is that the unconscious is actually quite intelligent. That when
Freud thought of his conception of the unconscious, it was a tangled web of erotic urges,
but really the diversity of unconscious processes are really different systems to understand
the world. And sometimes those systems are very dumb, they’re pretty bad at math, but
sometimes they’re very smart in helping you detect unconscious patterns in the world,
helping you do a conversation, helping you if you’re an academic to work on a problem,
and then suddenly the solution to that problem will bubble up from your unconscious and
you’ll have a eureka moment.
The second insight after the power of the unconscious is the idea that emotion is not
separate from reason, but emotion is the foundation for reason. People who have lesions
and can’t process emotions are not super smart ‘Mr. Spocks’, they’re super dumb,
because what emotion does is it assigns value to things, and if you can’t assign value to
things your decision-making landscape is hopelessly flat, and you can’t make wise
decisions. Emotions tell you what to value, they tell you what to remember, they literally
wire the fibres of the brain together.
And then the third insight is that we’re not individual creatures who are really autonomous
from one another; we are deeply inter-penetrated, one from another, and that when you
look at me, your brain is reacting to the things I’m doing as if you yourself are doing them.
And I think if you take these three foundational principles, you are reminded of, sort of a
different view of human nature. And to put it in sports terms – the French enlightenment
loses, and the British or Scottish enlightenment wins. That Rene Descartes who thought
that reason was tremendously powerful, and put emphasis on finding the abstract
universal laws of human behaviour – that’s probably not who we are. But David Hume and
Adam Smith and Edmund Burke and others who said that reason is weak but the
sentiments are strong, and that we’re primarily social and not rational creatures – they had
a much more accurate view of human nature.
Michael Pollan – Food Rules
It is true that longevity is increasing. I think it’s gone up 17 years since 100 years ago.
Very, very impressive.
Ten of those years are at the beginning of life. Basically, sanitation, vaccination, our ability
to get children through childhood, that’s where the great gain is. There are plenty of people
living to be in their 80s or 90s in the last century – if they could survive those first couple of
years. The seven years at the other end is by and large the result of medical intervention.
And yes, we have come up with ingenious techniques to treat the people we have
sickened. And the choice we have now, to continue to medicalise the chronic disease
problem the food system is creating, we could go down a path where every street corner in
the city next to the PayDay loan store has a dialysis clinic. But it will bankrupt us. It’s very
expensive. The way we are treating heart disease, great example, we are prolonging the
life, but the underlying incidences of heart disease may not be down at all. There is some
dispute about it. What we’re getting good at is keeping people alive once they have these
diseases but the question we have to answer now is – is that the way you want to deal
with it? Now capitalism loves to deal with problems by creating new industries to deal with
those problems, and there’s a very strong imperative to go down that path. My argument is
that it would be a whole lot more economical and beautiful to focus on changing the diet
rather than hooking us all up to more and more effective machines.
There was a recent study put out by the Union of Concerned Scientists in America that
found that on balance GM in soy had reduced yields and that in corn, under very certain
circumstances, it increased yield. What GM has done so far is not very helpful to the
world’s poor or to anyone, which is to say it has allowed farmers to expand the size of their
But expanding monocultures is not contributing to our health or to our happiness. It’s
contributing more processed food and more meat consumption. Most of that grain that’s
been grown with GM is feeding animals.
In 2008, which was a year of supposed food crises, we grew enough food to feed 11bn
people. Most of it was not eaten by humans as food however. A great deal of it was fed to
animals, about half, to feed our meat habit. And a great deal, especially in the US, was fed
to automobiles because we’re driving our cars on food right now. So it is not a question of
the yield of the arable land we have, so much as to what use we’re putting all this food
People say organic can’t feed the world but if you look at the research, you shouldn’t take
that as the premise of a discussion. That’s an assertion. In fact, there’s a recent review of
the literature that found that in industrial areas, organic achieves 92% of the yield of the
industrial, 8% loss in yield. But you go to the developing world and it produces 182% of
current yields. So if the developing world were to adopt organic production they would
have a tremendous increase in yield. I think we need to test these and figure that out. I
also think we may not have a choice. It may not be up to us to decide. Industrial agriculture
depends on huge amounts of fossil fuel. To produce this kind of processed food, it takes 10
calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of food energy. You know, this is a system
ostensibly based on photosynthesis. There should be a way to get more energy rather
than less when you are producing food. And there is, under certain systems. In the same
way, we’re going to have to learn to drive an industrial economy without a lot of fossil fuel,
we’re going to have to learn how to produce a lot of food without a lot of fossil fuel.
There are the stirrings of a movement and it’s very exciting what’s happening. You have
tremendous growth in local food economies, organic food, even in bad economic times,
people are still gravitating towards these alternatives. Mostly middle class, but the
movement is gradually democratising. There’s a tremendous emphasis in America around
urban agriculture and growing food in under-served areas. And areas where, even when
you want fresh produce, you can’t find it because there aren’t full scale supermarkets or
farmers’ markets. And there’s a lot of work being done to extend the benefits of this kind of
food to people who can’t now afford it. There are tremendous issues around affordability.
Cheap food is a blessing to the poor, arguably, but in fact I think what’s happened is we’ve
reduced the amount of money we have to spend on food and made food cheap, and that
seems like a good thing, but in fact what’s happened in America cheap food has
subsidised the decline of wages so that savings have captured more by employers than by
So the challenge is to figure out how to make food affordable. Not necessarily cheaper, but
more affordable. And that may mean giving people more money to buy higher quality food
rather than cheapening everything in sight. We are not doing very much to stimulate the
growing of the produce or the purchase of the produce. We are doing a lot to subsidise the
building blocks of fast food.