Does our economy make us happy?
By Lisa Gansky
The opinions expressed are her own.
Does our economy make us happy?
The crash-and-burn of the financial system, a prolonged recession, and high unemployment obviously cause us enormous distress. We are forced to ask ourselves, “What can we afford now?”
The collapse has also made many of us rethink what we care about. We’re finally asking, “Are all these things we’ve been buying (and probably still making payments on) truly making us happy?”
I started asking myself related questions long ago. Where do we look to derive value? What’s the source? As I talked with people, did research, and listened more intrusively to my own internal voice, I realized that in the process of choosing and buying we are actually being engulfed (essentially consumed), by the stuff in our lives.
It seems clear that our metric of Gross National Stuff isn’t moving us toward a happy path. Stuff noise is drowning out the happiness signal. Stuff blinds us because we believe that having it makes our lives fulfilled and living convenient.
So, does more stuff translate to greater convenience or more happiness? Not really.
As an entrepreneur and ‘marketect’, I’ve made a career out of both creating and quickly learning from failure — both my own and the unfortunate mistakes of others. New ideas often come from observing and even dissecting failure. And as I reflect on our culture of buying and then wasting the stuff we often go into debt to acquire, I realized we have failed to create real value and respect for ourselves.
In further research, I discovered the astonishing ways that some innovators are taking those failures and turning them into an opportunity. In business, I always look for places where there is a mismatch between value and cost, as it’s one way to hone in on a big opportunity. And I found hundreds, and then thousands of businesses and organizations creating a new model of opportunity. I call that model The Mesh.
The Mesh is the next business revolution being spawned by the Internet and mobile technology. And while it’s the new wave, it also has at its core an old-fashioned concept — sharing. Mesh companies employ the technology we all constantly use now to give us access to goods and services that are convenient for us, without having to own them. By having access to them exactly when and only when you want them — by sharing them — you avoid all the hassles, burdens, and expense of actually owning them.
Zipcar is a great example of this new sharing model. While the big auto companies were drowning, Zipcar was posting record profits by making it convenient for people to share cars. Now there are many more services like Zipcar, including Whipcar, RelayRides, Spride, GetAround and others. Some even use technology to make it convenient and safe for you to rent your car to neighbors.
The Mesh thrives on turning failures into better products and services. The Paris bike-sharing system, Vélib’, was a big, bold experiment in one of the world’s most beloved cities. Many people used the bikes properly for their intended purpose. Although some did trash the bikes by leaving them at the bottom of hills or throwing them in the Seine.
As a result, after three years and 80 million trips, version 2.0 of Vélib’ is smarter. The system uses wireless technology to locate the bike, and provides clever locking systems. Some of the bikes have even gotten small electric motors to help riders up the hill post evening at a bistro.
Now, bike-sharing services worldwide are benefiting from Paris’ experience, because the initial failure and the lessons provided were shared generously and globally. Other cities launching bike sharing services are standing on Paris’ shoulders by taking their lessons to heart and designing their own programs by embracing the hard won lessons of Vélib’.
The concept of sharing gets to the core of our social nature. And the Mesh taps into this concept. Networks, tools and technologies just help to expand relationships and the reach of what’s possible.
Relationships like this also enrich your social life. The Mesh enables people to better connect to each other and to the services they most appreciate and — dare I say? — make us happier.
Lisa Gansky, author of “The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing” and the Mesh Directory live, is a founder and CEO of several Internet companies, including GNN, the first web portal sold to AOL, and the largest consumer photo sharing and print service Ofoto, sold to Eastman Kodak in 2001. Gansky currently serves as a director of Dos Margaritas, an environmental foundation with programs focused in Latin America.
At the time of publication Lisa Gansky did not hold any equity in nor has had a formal relationship with any of the companies mentioned in this article. Her bio states that she is a board member and/or investor in several private companies, none of which are mentioned in this article.