Were it not for the fact that Cyber Monday takes place online, and that it enables businesses of all sizes to make some bank on America’s annual consumer binge ritual, it would probably be just another addendum to the depraved human behavior inspired by the pursuit of inane material possession. But consumerism doesn’t have to be a vacuous (and ultimately self-destructive) upward redistribution of wealth. If capitalism is to survive in the United States, perhaps it can thrive, through the internet, on a ‘Peer to Peer’ system of exchange.
Life, Inc. author and Times columnist Douglas Rushkoff touched on this during his speech to the ‘human microphone’ at Occupy Wall Street:
We outsource our work, we outsource our savings, we outsource our borrowing, we outsource our investing – all instead of sourcing one another. This 13th Century, printing-press era operating system is incompatible with a 21st Century economy. It is broken and dying. But it is still occupying our reality.
The Long Extraction is Over. The peer to peer society is back. We are ready to create and exchange value as people.
Sites like Etsy are taking on a version of that empowering, albeit somewhat idealistic vision. The idea of a marketplace whose products are sourced entirely from individuals — members of a ‘creator class’ who put care and passion into their work where machines would not — is something that could potentially drive the exploitative corporate middleman into obsolescence, if we could begin to appreciate the value of peer-sourced goods.
“Handmade Portraits: The Sword Maker”, a video by Etsy.
Services, too, could enter this realm. A new site, Gidsy, which is being touted as “Etsy for experiences,” is hoping to connect people with everything from mountain hiking tours to guitar lessons to bed-in-breakfasts, all sourced locally from within its online community. (We interviewed the founder here.) Even everyday chores are being serviced by sites like Taskrabbit, getting stuff done and, most importantly, putting people to work.
Something to keep in mind while cybering away looking for holiday gifts today: No matter what’s on offer, the peer economy is rewarding and celebrating people and their skills while large corporations continue to undermine and devalue them. With the greed of society’s upper echelons more visible than ever before, perhaps now is the best time for the horizontal spread of commerce to truly begin.