As a term, ‘sharing economy’1 is a misnomer and its collectivist
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A QUARTERED ESSAY ON URBAN EPIC ECONOMICS
1. 'Sharing economy’ is here referring to profitable online companies operating underneath the social media umbrella.[a] Conceptually, the ‘sharing economy’ derives its hubris from recent studies of ‘informal’ economies, celebrated for their surprising levels of organisation and efficiency (not so surprising when it turns out that more people in the world rely on an ‘informal’ economy than a ‘formal’ one which requires the relatively rare phenomena of a healthy middle class tax base). Parallel ‘urban development’ economic theory tends to be just as optimistic about the spatial equivalent of self-organising network economies - i.e. slums[b]. The eerily parallel Silicon Valley rhetoric of the re-partitioning of wealth direct to a self-organising populace contains interesting follow-up questions about scale, but in any case cannot so quickly be championed as tools of social re-organisation[c]. From one angle, the difference between a slum lord and a $60bn company evading tax is slight, and the organisational benefits of both are apparent but murky.
2. These companies are not networks, they are 2-D binomial matching softwares that trade in big data and communications efficiencies. They more tightly link supply and demand between individuals, generally by connecting provider to user with tighter turn-arounds, lower overheads and less infrastructure.[d] Their host technology, ‘the internet’, is a (mostly) public and a true network. Commercial interfaces that capitalise on the public infrastructure of network are not, by extension, networks. The addition of interface necessarily encloses, simplifies and bounds public network.(iv)
3. The term ‘Pairing economy’ is being proposed here as a more precise term[e] for NQBA(v) self-organising , NQBA-democratic and NQBA-transparent companies and organisations. This NQBA root stock still contains the DNA of enlightenment monadism, competitive industrial development and monogamous human sexuality. The provocation and challenge inherent in the adopted term is that we are simply looking at high-volume pairing, rather than complex sharing systems here. This is the case despite and probably because of our theoretical yearnings, leanings and daydreams of polytropic utopias. We consistently mistake our ability to write about social maturity, for social maturity itself.
4. To say that sexual monogamy is king today is to still understate to what extent it infuses the collective emotional field that we elect and purchase things in. Monogamy has been rabidly defended and enforced for millenia, the sheer violence of which betrays its continual crisis of relevance.[f] Today the practice of polyamory is still alive (proportionally, as a skerrick of its former self), and is less so demarcated as a community of sharing and moreso as an alternative lifestyle choice.(vi)
5. The original sexual parallel of a true sharing economy then would be that of a fully polyamorous society small in scale: 100-150 people. In such a ‘tribal’ arrangement, personal will, comparison and currency dematerialise.[g] To say here that group takes precedence over individual is to understate the situation: there is no choice between the two because this choice belongs to the personal. The collective mindset it is best summed up by the contra-dictum “I am group”. Supposedly we experience groupthink remnants in our contemporary emotional fabric, manifesting as social anxieties that have us committing serious self and interpersonal harm on their behalf.[h] New-age movements encourage us to transcend stale old communal anxieties by forming a stronger relationship with self but at the same time pillage the icons and poetry of the same ancient communitarian systems of thought. This is a contradiction too familiar and disappointing to be worth of a sweet little koan, and goes some way to explain the ghoulish sleaze and vanity that radiates from said new-age groups.
6. We are now trained to share as adults in a transactional and immediately reciprocal fashion.[i] We see a world of monogamous relationships as default and are taught to share most things with solely one other person who will fulfil our wildly varying and changing needs all on their own - and vice versa. All eggs being in one basket (pun semi-intended), it cannot be any surprise that the highest rates of depression and suicide (which we baselessly attribute to our time) are amongst 35-45 year old men who have been divorced and found themselves without a sticky social foundation based on sharing. (vii) They rapidly unravel of a loneliness never honed.
7. ‘Sticky’ social bonds are precisely those that are required for a sharing economy to properly function. They show up when a small space is demarcated for it to occur[j] or in the media as ‘human interest’ content. [k] They rarely show up in our consumption choices and business models though. Attempts have been made to start ‘true’ sharing systems, such as the circular borrowing of power tools and furniture swaps but many of these fail to gain momentum.[l] Currency exchange introduces a language of accountability that everyone can understand syntactically regardless of past and future mobility. 21st century Swingers go like this: Put your keys in the bowl at the door, but bring $50 for my husband as well. He’s still cheaper than the formal economy, but ALSO has the trappings of the gift economy (i.e. he’s older, more implicit and smells more complex).
8. Wasting time includes forgoing productive and consumptive time.(xi) ‘Wasting time’ and de-materialising self may be considered interchangeably, if seen as a skill and not to be conflated with procrastination or avoidance. As Kurt Vonnegut mysteriously put it: “We were put here on earth to fart around, and don’t let anyone tell you differently”.
9. It is widely rumoured that suffering is the key to the creation of great art, but this would be to confuse the cause with the vector - like saying that mosquitoes cause malaria. Likewise, it is not lifestyle convenience itself that hinders creativity (because it actually removes hinderances). Convenience does, however, snuff out a sense of urgency that is required to create work with a larger purpose than wealth maintenance. Highly liveable cities do not contain the epic-ness of struggle and savagery that provide us with an external source of urgency, but their convenience is clearly no excuse for a lack of internal urgency. Liveable cities lay down the O.G. challenge of civilisation: To make the most of inherited comfort through elegant sufficiency - rather than desperate overstuffing ourselves with it.
10. The advertising industry is no fool to these statistics and must be admired and emulated for its ongoing ability to dutifully perform its market research, then go ahead and employ the most monumental waste of creative talent to manufacture kernels of emotional investment and mess with collective desire. Urban designers and architects are meanwhile obeying ‘responsible’ data from over in the the naughty corner, thanks very much post-war modernism.
11. No doubt, efficiency is proven to improve cities in measurable ways. This sounds obvious and rather inane, because it is so. This is our tautological and self-referential definition of how to improve of the city, reverse-engineered and devoid of vision and intuition. This line matches the same dry rice-cake flavour of most new master plans and precinct developments.
12. The ‘environmental’ movement is still popularly aestheticised, moralising and full of convenient truths like hybrid cars. Frustration with the avoidance and stubbornness of the democratic political process on environmental issues is understandable but has a rather circular direction of focus. Chamber politician (separate from the much larger and increasingly meritocratic public service)(xii), are elected to represent, not to inspire. If the standard of official politics has deteriorated it is like holding up a stained mirror to constituents - “Is that me in there?”
13. Creative commons tend to show up at large technological leaps. A commons of technicians birthed the internet, the human genome project and the early days of atomic physics (i.e. Bohr, not Manhattan).[o] These great leaps for mankind seems to indicate the power of a scientific commons before asking the tired question of how do we make the commons more common. Look closer though, because as with any historical correlation, the order of cause and effect (chicken and egg) is assumed as convenient, and the inverse may be equally true: So a commons may form because a technological leap calls. Then it is an epic-ness of cause that generates creative community. A sublime and exciting purpose unites.
14. Net neutrality is therefore ever more important for cities as their mechanisms and policies are increasingly fed by ‘big data’ collected via private enterprise. Talking about ‘smart cities’ must be assumed as sinister if it does not immediately follow a conversation about neutral cities.
15. Democracy has never had at its core a mechanism for wealth equality or even social equality. It was born in slave-owning Greece and then Born Again in slave-owning USA. The expectation of closing wealth gaps becomes an extra condition added to a democratic system, not intrinsic within it. Inspired in the Randian forges of Silicon Valley[p], one should not expect pairing economy platforms to be net equalisers of a social-fiscal field. They may encourage a finer grained meritocracy of sorts, although even that is a rather forceful ‘encouraging’ of effusive and exclamatory positive feedback loops - to make sure we’re our net emotion is ‘loving the app’.
16. The User: One of the darling terms of (structuralist) social modernism in architecture. The term speaks for its generic self to the extent that I could define it only with inappropriate synonyms. Like most words it gets weirder and weirder and dematerialises the longer one stares at it - which really is the rub with structuralism. In the 21st century, ‘user’ is often substituted with the city council/ABC-radio buzzword ‘community’ though the painfully inclusive vagueness remains. Both terms will hopefully be replaced before long with the word arseholes/assholes because everyone has got one.
17. The interface which is our largest enabler and frustrator is the street - the bodily interfaces of town and city will always have the final say on public life for as long as we live together.[q] ‘Will it though?’ one might be tempted to say in a fit of IT hype.[r] Yes, it will. This is why it is so satisfying watching someone walking along diddling their phone get nailed by some uneven pavement.
18. Nascent anarchism was identifiable in 19th century artisan guilds in Cataluña. Nascent unionism was relevant in the 20th century, which the closure of the Victorian Ford factories has just brought to a close in Australia Socially progressive movements are relevant only when nascent, as their ineffectual speech currently demonstrates. In the ‘age of the tradie’ at least four levels of speech are necessary for social reform, with #1 and #3 at present being the most under-developed forms of progressive discourse: 1 = statement, 2 = explanation, 3 = example, 4 = disclaimer.
19. Tribalism as a concept has been dipped in mud, and is either attributed to history, fascinated in legend or emulated in a controlled environment (e.g. UK ‘70s punk, medieval battle revivals, the AFL). A city that outwardly facilitates the formation of intentional tribes and factions with circulatory gift economies is a tantalising, puzzling and honorific proposition for urban interface designers of all kinds.(xvii)
20. Less punchy, but more accurately: the balance of strength, flexibility and portability of collective lies allow them to bind us, just not in isolation, as: A ‘Strength’ lie is dangerous and requires fleeing - e.g. Spanish Inquisition. A ‘Flexibility’ lie may manifest in ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ or the truth-bending of tabloid, small talk and gossip. A ‘Portability’ lie manifests in a scatter-brained media-whore politician. When all three ‘lines of lie development’(xx) are developed and applied intentionally, the lie can become dynamic, useful, vital. Large-scale urban tribalism becomes more probable as multiple fluid identities are swam and surfed rather than desperately clung to.
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MAKING REFERENCE TO VARIOUS CULTURAL SOURCES
[a] The largest are Airbnb and Uber, which are both successfully routing two large and tired industries. The taxation & legislative bases which they operate in have struggled to keep up with their ‘self-organisation’, which is mostly code for offshore tax evasion similar to BHP’s. In Australia the ATO is currently being sued by Uber in the Federal Court for demanding that drivers pay GST, just as taxi companies do.
[b] See the book “Planet of Slums” (2006) by Mike Davis for an apocalyptic description of the violent and non-elected power structures and hierarchies operating within slums. Slum lords have frightening levels impunity because they are relatively invisible to outsiders and have unimaginable human capital at their feet.
[c] Uber nevertheless does have a web page dedicated to the how Uber is ‘helping cities’ - a title puzzlingly chosen over the much punnier ‘Ubernism’(ii). Amongst other things, Uber outlines how it provides accessible employment in high-unemployment areas and ‘curbs’ drunk driving(iii). Uber also accrues a massive database of passenger and driver movements movements daily that is made available to ‘law enforcement’ when requested, and is trialling a commuter carpool service in the USA.
[d] Spacemarket and Car Next Door are two very nascent examples of pairing platforms with a very deliberate mission to improve the city through these recouped efficiencies, increasing available rental space and reducing car ownership respectively. Neither require the staffing or premises of a real-estate agent or a car-rental depot, and present a great social business case argument for the pairing economy.(viii)
[e] ‘Platform economy’ has also been suggested by USA economists. It more accurately captures the interface component and technological reliance, but it is not located in the main text because it is not even slightly cool. There are no silver medals in the realm of buzzwords - but there is always a special olympics - which is what we are doing here.
[f] See Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality Vol. 1 and watch the translated word ‘discourse’ pop up an unbelievable number of times. I imagine it as an unfortunate and grumpy kind of intercourse. The book is also about the enforcement and reinforcement of power structures through sexual abnegation (i.e. women and children), criminalisation (i.e. homosexuality) and pathology (i.e. kinks). This here article relies more on the privately sexualised structures of public economy. And the publicly sexualised structures of private economy.
[g] This is detailed earnestly and with humour in the wonderfully optimistic book “Sex at Dawn” (2010 Ryan & Jetha), which points at the politely horny little Bonobo as a model primate that uses polyamorous sex as a social glue - a practice echoed in many human cultures pre and post-agricultural with the notable exception of our own for only as long as we can remember. They detail this in opposition to the persistent and gloomy model of bellicose chimps, who when provoked appear to be as capable of atrocities as humans, sealing a reverse-engineered ’standard narrative’ of competitive and jealous human sexuality.
[h] See waitbutwhy.com article by Tim Urban on ‘How to Slay The Mammoth’ (representing stone age social anxiety). In this article the ‘AV’ or authentic voice is championed, which is a comfortingly self-explanatory ‘thing’ but obtuse and slippery when called upon. It still relies on a highly constructed and self-conscious ‘self’.
[i] Watching ‘Pay it forward’ (2000) seems to seal the reality of transactional exchange more than question it, which is what Hollywood does best really. Cynical satire.
[j] Demarcated sharing space is identifiable in local community projects: Take for example Ceres Environment Park in Melbourne’s Brunswick East, replete with the relevant and tight-fitting tropes of its earthy counter-culture and a large inner-suburban support base.
[k] An 12/08/16 article in The Guardian describes how an elderly Italian couple were found in a very agitated emotional state in their apartment by the local police, who found out they were both utterly lonely together after 70 years of marriage The police stayed to cook them spaghetti and do the washing up, then posted pictures on the ‘Polizia de Stato’ facebook page noting how loneliness can sweep over you “like a summer storm”, and understandably went viral. This article links to another that uses the same ‘sticky’ terminology.
[l] At the ‘Occupied’ exhibition at RMIT, Q3 2016, Otherothers from Sydney construct beautiful large models showing the brick veneer stripped away from outer suburban McMansions, leaving only stud structure with inset infill walls to be partitioned and inhabited by a multiple family units between diminuitive shared circulation spaces. It’s a derivatively Latin American density proposition, which is right on time. The open stud walls echo Teddy Cruz’ polemic drawings for slum house construction as kits of salvage parts and off-the-shelf materials imported from a wealthy and wasteful neighbour. The occupied models leave plenty of open questions, mostly material ones(x) but also questions of the implied ownership of walkway spaces and party walls.
[m] Also by philosophical accounts: According to mythologist Joseph Campbell, the idea of a ‘global’ humanity was supposed to supercede the community of religion and state, and it was surely no longer appropriate nor accurate to speak of fundamental differences between races. It is certainly no accident of history that the American civil rights era coincided with the frontier-expanding space race, but today we still see sickly remnants of religious ignorance and imprecise nationalism moping around the post-industrial inspiration vacuum of lifestyle = god.
[n] Embodied first and best in the 1967 image of the Earth from space - a dense blue ball floating in the vacuum, its liquid atmosphere streaking white across the surface and softly enclosing all life as we know it in the most discrete of shared spaces.
[o] The space race is an outstanding example of rapid technological advancement achieved under extreme competitive privacy, and being founded on Nazi war ballistics, it seems to detail the opposite case. The failure to upkeep this technology tells the rest of the story though. Granted both confederations got to the moon and armed themselves and their proxy states to the teeth, but fast-forward to 2016 the USA is bankrupting itself still winning the cold war against no-one, and the former CCCP goes without saying really. With decaying nukes everywhere, what was the question indeed.
[p] Ayn Rand - Wacky Russian emigré dominatrix auntie of laissez-faire capitalism, a bonafide 1920s NYC proto- Sex and the City author lady. Currently a demi-god in silicon valley. See Adam Curtis’ bold 2011 documentary “All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace”.
[q] Back to the ‘occupied’ exhibition, a platform above the exhibition is a bookable shared space. It is patrolled completely within the university MO of privately-policed bookable space. It’s no surprise that we are helplessly attracted to the idea of decentralised, communal ownership in Melbourne, but these manifestations must be evaluated on the city’s own terms. The massive contradictions in the wonderful but overly curated exhibition demonstrate that lamenting the lack of ‘truly’ free space doesn’t make much sense in the largest enlightenment city(xiii) of a utilitarian nation. Considered on its own terms though, it still does suck that the City of Melbourne has recently outsourced its vast public park maintenance services to detention centre and prison-loving multinational security giant Serco.
[r] The most visible IT interfaces generating hubris in recent decades are those of Apple, who ingeniously fingered out a huge market of typeface consumers in the ‘90s who would rather remain ignorant of the inaccessible inner workings of their lifestyle machines. Apple surreptitiously deleted an app developed by an NYU student in 2012 that tracked US drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When asked why, Apple legally declined to comment. Most of the power mechamisms of privatised interface are not as apparent in their graphics as in their legal underwriting, and in the size of their success, actually.
[s] Online dating is both the trailblazer of ‘pairing’ interface design(xiv) and the emotional model for other all pairing apps. These dating platforms can be broken down into three structural types: 1) Binary (yes or no) pairing (i.e. Tinder, Grindr etc. - swipe left or right). The rude simplicity of this interface generates its own complex culture of ordeal through the sheer amount of informatic material unshared before users bodily fluids are hopefully shared. 2) Library - using powerful criteria-matching algorithms and extremely astute value matrices to match people pragmatically looking for partner congruence. Includes OK Cupid, RSVP, JDate. 3) Melee - Gumtree (AUS) and Craigslist (USA). Free for all, basically the wild west. This interface type is loose enough to accommodate polyamory, orgies, fetishes(xv). Its daggy cheapness supports these liminal uses on a wild frontier of everything. It’s like 2 million people re-located all at once to to Coober Pedy, South Australia or La Puebla, New Mexico.(xvi)
[t] Factions are anathema to any Eastern and Western cities within a breath of the top 20 most liveable, where the hollow narrative of unity is preferred instead. Difference itself is blamed rather than say, feelings of powerlessness, poverty or a cheeky military invasion. Tribal tensions are used to explain why Kiev, Baghdad and Lagos grace the bottom of the liveability charts, but we must remember that the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda had a stable peace before the colonial Belgians pitted them against one another; and that FARC and Escobar in Colombia were funded by ‘United’ USA college drug habits. We also have to remember that it is precisely the most perturbed cities that ‘most liveable’ lists are made to classify: the lists were initially commissioned by multi-nationals looking to create renumeration packages for expat employees sent to corrupt shit holes at the bottom of the list. Melbourne, Australia is therefore the least worst city in the world for 6 years running.
[i - xx]
TO FORM AN OPINION PIECE
(i) Sharing is pairing.... This title is intended not as a deterministic statement (i.e. that sharing is impossible for us) nor as a disparaging one (i.e. we are completely fucked because we can’t share). The idea is that by highlighting the analogous sexual biases within our notion of sharing, we may open space for new kinks, so to speak, in communitarian behaviours.
(ii) Ubernism.... One likes to imagine this was a very difficult decision of Gen Y nomenclature that split the office right down the middle ideologically, and required a rapidly organised trip to Yosemite for emergency team-building exercises.
(iii) Curbs drunk driving.... A conciliatory pun breathlessly agreed on in the emotionally buoyed Uber bus trip back to San Jose
(iv) Interface bounds network.... This is not to say that privately developed interface is inherently anti-social, but it does explain why it is more important than ever to be literate in the structural limitations of interface and for designers of all kinds to have skin in the game.
(v) NQBA.... Not quite but almost
(vi) Alternative lifestyle choice.... Utopian paradise, self-aggrandising counter-culture or new age attention-deficit? Question mark because you’d have to ask someone who actually knows.
(vii) Highest suicide rate.... I heard this a while ago and might not be strictly true any more, but it sounds like it could be, which is fit for purpose.
(viii) Recouped efficiencies.... is by no means a bad thing - on the contrary it frees up more time, space and money generally - it just does not contain any conditions for the reasonable partitioning of what has been ‘value captured’.
(ix) Epic city..... not just a synonym for Edmund Burke’s aesthetic ‘sublime’. It’s richest source material lies amongst the least aestheticised and glamorous landscapes - immigration, aged care, early childhood, small business and agriculture. Then of course + all the usual industrial and architectural suspects.
(x) Open material questions.... A stud wall frame of radiata pine left for polemic will not withstand the weather long, so the inset walls form up a McMansion effectively shrunk to 80% of its former size with a rotting loggia. These issues are materially immaterial in the polemic, but the notion that Bunnings and Home Depot will unwittingly participate in our liberation because they are cheap and hence ‘available to all’ is still a troubling equation when we expand the lens to look at supply chain.
(xi) ‘Wasting of time’....Forming the bonds themselves are time inefficient, but the material reality of sharing is of course not so. We each know from experience that sharing creates a great number of material efficiencies, but these magnitudes are not the point of the investigation at hand.
(xii) Increasingly meritocratic public service…… At least this is what I’ve heard from people who compete for jobs in the public service for longer hours and less pay than before. In architecture at least this is how you measure meritocracy...
(xiii) Largest enlightenment city in Australia.... It’s not, but will apparently be bigger than Sydney by 2050, so just trying it on for size.
(xiv) Pairing interface design.... In parallel, a few critics of Jane Jacobs, including conservative Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey, have noted the erotic overtones of her swinging ‘60s Greenwich Village concept of ‘encounter’. They said it like it was a bad thing, but best hope they are spot on.
(xv) Fetishes.... Like those two guys in Germany that ate guy #1 penis together before guy #2 ceremoniously slay’d him. Consensually.
(xvi) South Australia or New Mexico.... Every AUS place reference paired to similar USA place reference to add legitimacy in AUS and acknowledgement in USA.
(xvii) Honorific proposition....Urban tribes do of course already exist, self-conscious but not self-conscious enough. They are not incorrectly defined and in flux enough. The forms of totemic deifying tribalism have moved from animal, to vegetable and now mineral, persisting throughout history regardless of deliberate social organisation. Their totems and names must be thrown around as recklessly as possible, and owned up to in the same freak show carnivale spirit of history. The Kooyong Klan will not mobilise until threatened or of course until it is fashionable. Threatening is a bit much ISIL, but fashionable now that we can do. That is precisely the mechanism of choice for interface designers.
(xviii) Individual will.... Using the word as iterated by A. Schopenhauer, who was falling on his syphilitic sword of self-importance when describing the universal (not universal) traits of his fellow 19th century Germans. He made history fit current values, rather than the other way around. lost.
(xix) Honorific proposition.... An act of faith and mutual trust between individuals and their collective institutions - making the most of an historically unprecedented congealing of this many humans.
(xx) Lines of lie development…. Strictly speaking this is not a thing.