Millennials are the largest generation in U.S. history, making up 83.1 million of the nation’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As this group of individuals approaches their prime spending years, they have the ability to significantly alter the buying power of the U.S. economy. We’ve already seen their influence reflected in today’s sharing economy, a socio-economic system built around the sharing of resources, with the emergence of services from Airbnb to Uber and Zipcar. In fact, 57 percent of adults agree that access is the new ownership, according to Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC).
As we look to the business of the sharing economy, let’s review what’s driving this movement, use today’s environment as an indicator of what the future might look like, and reflect on the technology at the center of it all -- the cloud.
Why sharing works for millennials.
Millennials grew up in an age of rapid changes in the U.S. economy. Many graduated college during the recession only to face a difficult job market and were often forced to move back home in order to make ends meet. Adding to this is the financial responsibilities from mounting student loans -- calculated at an average of $20,926 for 25-year-olds in 2013, as reported by Goldman Sachs.
An uneasy economy has made millennials cautious to spend money and accumulate more debt, but it has also brought forth new spending and consumption behaviors. A new mindset about consumerism has been established. Sharing and being frugal are now perceived as cool and clever as ownership is not a necessity anymore; for this generation ownership can instead be an obstacle in care and maintenance. This is why the sharing of goods and services made possible by the cloud has become essential. Gone are the days of self-serving ownership -- community sharing and mass enjoyment are the "now" trends.
Older generations look at scrapbooks and albums to reflect on key milestones in their lives but millennials simply log onto Facebook, scroll through Instagram or head to the cloud to check out photos from the past year. Instead of writing information down with a pen and paper, it’s being stored in cloud-connected devices. They simply don’t have a tangible collection. For millennials, the world they live in has always been a connected one, a natural condition that has driven the expectation to be able to access music, photos, documents, movies, etc. from any device at any time.
Millennials are also starting to question private ownership of previous status symbols, like a car when you can be part of a car pool instead. The cloud offers convenience with no maintenance responsibility, the ability to book it whenever you need it and never have to worry about parking between uses. It is important to note that the sharing economy gave people that otherwise couldn’t afford it access to things like a brand new house and unlimited access to music and movies -- often with a better service level than ownership can provide.
While millennials have less "stuff" than older generations, these digital natives have some of the largest digital footprints. As a generation hooked to their smart devices, they are bound to have an impact on the tech evolution and the world as we know it.
A sharing future.
We’ve already seen the rise of sharing behaviors in the workplace. The use of paper is becoming less common in offices and project collaboration through platforms like Google Drive and Dropbox are gaining popularity. This has also trickled down to the physical aspects of the work environment. Shared workplaces like WeWork are growing and businesses are gradually adopting open-concept offices that breed new ideas between teams. Perhaps this sharing mindset predicts a future where telecommuting is dominant as access from the cloud is available anywhere?
Millennials are already their own chief cloud officers for private cloud usage -- though most millennials don’t believe they are using the cloud when they post pictures on Facebook or Instagram. As the sharing economy thrives, decentralization of the cloud will become a hot topic. Why should a select few control all the assets when the pure thought of ownership opposes so many millennials? The solution is around the corner in the form of the hybrid clouds which makes private clouds searchable, available and possible to sync with. The adoption of effortless private clouds through a hybrid cloud model will once again shift power to the advantage of millennials and make way for a second wave of digital content and individual expression without any curation.
Millennials will continue to shape the sharing economy for years to come as we move in the direction of decentralization. Essentially, we will continue to see a world where the "middle man" is eliminated and this has tremendous implications for our economy. Decentralization will also make mass surveillance more of a challenge. Will we see a world where bank usage declines and Bitcoin becomes the global currency? Millennials are already questioning ownership so larger questions about the role of government, multinational corporations, the dominant cloud services, and even our economic structure may not be so far away.
Technology has made it easier and cheaper for people to share resources, collaborate, express themselves, connect to people and expand the reach of goods and services. It has allowed millennials to have access to items they want without owning -- essentially creating maximum convenience at the lowest cost. Millennials are certainly leaving their footprint on the world; it just turns out that it’s a digital footprint that is changing the way we interact with one another and our perception on a global scale.
With this generation, there seems to be no stopping the sharing economy and it will continue to advance as the needs of millennials expand. So maybe sharing is caring, as long as you’re practical about it.