Less stuff means more mobility for tomorrow’s workers.

By Hugo Garcia

The accumulation of property may be less enticing to consumers seeking alternatives to ownership.

We are in the midst of a very powerful and disruptive change in consumer behavior, from buying to pay-per-use. Apparently, the new consumer is fed up with buying stuff and now wants to use things without owning them. This gives the consumer more freedom and the ability to make easier and faster decisions. It also poses a threat to some old business models, but enormous opportunities for new ones.

Behind this trend is that today’s consumers increasingly expect everything here and now: They want new and cool stuff, right when they want them, but can’t afford to buy them all. Moreover, in a culture of fast obsolescence that makes a two-year-old smartphone look like a vintage item (consider an iPhone 2G), for the eager consumer there is no great attachment to stuff. It’s only a matter of using it and throwing it away, like chewing gum.

Collaborative consumption is a more conscious approach to consumption, with an environmental mind-set. It’s a very solid argument that, by sharing products, the economy becomes more efficient and we consume fewer of Earth’s resources. This is one reason behind new business models like car sharing, upcycling (using old items in a new way), co-working, and handbag renting.

While much of collaborative consumption stems from ecological awareness, not all of Consumption 2.0 is green.

Freedom is another common reason for detaching from property. Finding a new job in a different city, country, or continent is a great motivation to dispose of any physical attachments that impair mobility. In a paradigm where lifelong jobs are highly improbable, and at any moment you may have to change your job, everybody wants to be mobile.

Or you may want to keep your job and work from anywhere in the world, thanks to an Internet connection. German futurist Stephen Magnus, for example, has chosen to live in Algarve, Portugal, while keeping his German clients. He calls himself a cyber-dropout for doing so.

The rise of this non-ownership trend comes with an increasing disappointment regarding property.

Younger generations have received from their parents land and property that are now worth less and consequently not easy to sell. Also, the economic crisis reminded a lot of homeowners that, in reality, “their” house doesn’t belong to them, but to the bank.

Owning big things like personal vehicles can also be a burden due to the numerous inherent costs, such as insurance and maintenance. And they don’t represent as much freedom as one would expect, especially when good public transportation service is an easy alternative. Teenagers who are now reaching driving age aren’t as eager to get a driver’s license or buy a car as were the teens of 10 years ago.

Finally, there is a new perspective that physical is ephemeral, but virtual lasts forever. Most things we value today, like knowledge and reputation, are not physical. Even the money in your bank account isn’t much more than a number in some server. Most Web top-users tend to trust absolutely in the cloud.

With so many “deep causes” underlying this non-owership trend, Consumption 2.0 will likely keep growing in the next decades, making this new lifestyle into something common. The trend primarily affects young adults who strive in a very competitive environment, are eager to see the world, have friends from all continents, and become impatient very easily.

Impacts of Consumption 2.0

Whether it is referred to as Consumption 2.0, “pay-per-use,” “collaborative consumption and sharing,” or something else, the trend reflects a whole new lifestyle.

1. Homes, not houses. The new consumers may never own a house or even want to. Instead, they’ll rent them, or just rent rooms. In the near future, it might become mainstream to live in residential hotels (similar to a dorm aimed at professionals), with services for your entire daily needs (food, laundry, weekly room services, and Wi-Fi).

2. Forget your “office.” Whether you are working for yourself or for others, you’ll probably be using a co-working or shared facility, and you’ll want to change from place to place on a regular basis. Imagine that where you live it has been raining for the past three weeks and there are no signs it will stop. Why can’t you go for a month to work in a place near the beach and learn a new language, or how to surf, in your spare time?

3. Web before food. You are constantly moving from one place to another, so you are not acquainted with local shops. You’ll need online information every step of the way. You may still own your computer, a tablet and a smartphone, and whatever comes next, but all the important stuff will be on the Web.

4. Shared mobility. Public transportation and vehicle sharing will do most of your moving around. Take a bus in the morning to work, go back home in a rented bike. Avoid driving! You’ll need that quality time on your social network, which will be a prerequisite to maintain the thousands of friends you’ll have all over the world, because who knows where you are going to live next month.

5. Cleaned closets and the end of clutter. In order to travel light, you’ll want to carry only basic clothes. Other items like suits, handbags, and accessories you may easily rent in any city.

6. Goodbye, media libraries. For entertainment, even if piracy takes a step back, buying CDs and books won’t become popular again. Pay-per-listen with a monthly fee, book exchange, or digital access for a short period of time can serve your needs.

7. Goodbye, filing cabinets. Invoices and documents will gradually disappear. No more old receipts in your pocket, as all of your shopping will be immediately registered in your online banking account.

From a macro perspective, Consumption 2.0 will have a great impact in mobility and globalization, making borders meaningless. If a country has an unemployment problem, people will react to it almost instantly. Massive immigration will become a reality so much faster.

This constant mobility will improve social equity between nations. Unfortunately, some areas may become abandoned because they lack competitive advantages. The war for talent between countries will increase, but regions that offer good living conditions may gain an advantage.

About the Author

Hugo Garcia is a consulting futurist with a background in marketing and consumer behavior, based in Lisbon, Portugal. Web site