The 2008 economic downturn has undermined economic security for many, bringing in its wake increased levels of unemployment and under-employment—especially for youth—along with reductions in wealth and heightened economic fear and insecurity. Almost simultaneously, public attention to the looming environmental crisis of climate change has accelerated, inspiring everything from “green consumption” to government-led initiatives to combat environmental degradation. A “new economy” conversation has emerged that focuses on visions of resilience and sustainability, in which stronger, more connected communities become the social fabric for an ecologically balanced economy of extra-market and new-market enterprises. The new economy initiatives are oriented to high satisfaction, egalitarian outcomes, low eco-footprints, and enhanced levels of learning. Connected consumption is one part of these visions of resilience and sustainability.
Connected consumption, characterized by other names such as “collaborative consumption” (Botsman and Rogers, 20101) and the “new sharing economy”, is based on a culture of access, use, and re-circulation of used goods as alternatives to traditional private ownership. With the potential to foster peer-to-peer learning and social connection, ecological sustainability and economic opportunity, connected consumption has the potential to transform mobility, shopping, travel, work practices, living arrangements, service provision, household production and learning. Examples of connected consumption initiatives include Relay Rides, Zipcar, eBay, Craigslist, Freecycle, Airbnb, Couchsurfing, HubCulture, Citizen Space, co-housing, WeCommune, Toolshare, Time banking, P2PU, and Skillshare. Over the course of this project, we are surveying the practice of connected consumption broadly as well as studying particular cases in detail. In 2011 and 2012, we are focusing on two cases. The first is time banking, which is a non-profit exchange practice in which services are exchanged for units of time. The second is open learning, which is a sector of post-secondary education that consists of organizations that facilitate free or low-cost, peer-oriented, accessible learning experiences. Our intent is to explore the sociological significance of connected consumption, specifically focusing on variables that measure engagement, expertise, and efficacy.