The Sad Truth about the Access Economy

Campus Church University Munster, Side Entrance at day and night

Campus Church University Munster, Side Entrance at day and night

"Access is perceived as efficient, convenient and good value for money."

Access is claimed to be by practitioners and scholars the (next) big thing. Instead of owning products, we are increasingly gaining access to it: Be it music streaming (like spotify), movie libraries (like Netflix), car pooling services (like Uber) or other professional services (like phonio, renttherunway or homejoy), the choice of access products are increasing every day. In a recent blog article by Pete Juszczynski. I learned about the advantages of having access instead of owning products. Having access suggests efficiency, convenience and good value for money. It often means to share something which is socially desirable and one of the things at the top of our minds right now. On top, it says: "You only pay for what you use." Fame and glory is what access start-ups receive for their revolutionary idea to make us share the stuff we own. They promise that we not only save money but also socially integrate our lives. Could this be some key to overcome the social imbalance that Henry Mintzberg describes in his recent pamphlet?

"We have to be careful not to glorify something that is difficult to understand."

All of this just sounds too good to be true: a social revolution where everybody shares everything while saving some money. Too good, indeed. Particularly the enthusiasm of the Internet community got me sceptic. Although there is something new to the idea of access that can very well add something to our lives, we have to be careful not to glorify something that is difficult to understand. I will try to explain in the following why access is not so different to ownership after all and what an access economy may mean for our society.

"Access has something even more materialistic."

Let's just assume that we are able to upgrade our clothes, our car or our home for a limited amount of time and we are proud of it because we and our friends, we agree that having access is better than ownership. At first, it might seem social and liberal, but if you look really close, there is something even more materialistic that alters our consumption to an even more hedonistic one.

"Access is directly built on a hedonistic culture and the idea of flow."

Hedonism in this respect is one of the main energy sources of what drives us to temporarily upgrade our status. Access is directly built on a hedonistic culture and hedonists' ultimate objective is pleasure, arousal or joy. In this regard, we search for flow (here you can find more details regarding this concept). For instance, I search for flow writing this blog article in order to become ultra-focused and devoted. I remember when I wrote this article that I felt like being able to write quick for two three paragraphs and generate some kind of momentum. This momentum then stopped because I either thought too hard, I may have felt doubt or I just lost it (no explanation available). This is completely normal, it's actually very difficult to maintain momentum. One major disruptive factor may also be an extrinsic reward. For instance, if I got paid for writing this article, I would not be as devoted as I am now. It's because I don't want to be paid for something that I do because of it's own sake. I don't expect to be famous or recognized for writing my blog. I maybe just want to share my thoughts, meet some new people and receive some opinions, that's all.

"Access may create more joy than ownership, but..."

Now, access has supporting elements of flow, such as convenience or variety regarding the offer. If we think of music streaming, for example, this service may generate more flow (i.e. more joy) when listening to music comparing it to the traditional process of buying a CD, go home and then listening to it. However, again, if you get paid listening to music like an editor of a music magazine, the extrinsic reward would disrupt the flow (i.e. joy). It's not that the editor is listening to his own music that he chose and likes. It's music that he has to hear and evaluate. This means that access has the potential to create more joy than ownership, which is first of all a good thing.

"Access will make us pay more and save less"

However, flow also has the negative side effect of addiction. It can be assumed that access products are going to be more addictive and enjoyable than owning the products. Hence, on a long run, consumers will be willing to spend more money for access services than they would have paid for ownership. If you are able to save your money through access, you are changing the way we were, but humans do not save. Access will make us pay more and save less. Since access is extremely hedonistic, it may lead to an excess of consumption. Sadly, as human beings, we don't save but spent.

"Access provides no securities."

In contrary to access, ownership is an asset, which provides a financial security (e.g. your home). No ownership would mean no financial securities or guarantees that you can show to your banks if you need support during a recession for instance. The issue now is that if you have no assets as securities, recessions may hit us harder than before. We have recessions every six to seven years. 2001 The dotcom bubble, 2009 the mortgage crisis, 2016 the...

"The revolution will not be the access economy, but the save economy."

If access may not be the revolution that is going to change us, what can we do? The only thing we can do, if you ask me, is to save money. The revolution will not be the access economy or share economy, it will be the save economy. Pay your student debts, pay off your mortgage and If you have some 10.000 bucks on your account, you are going to feel free, that's the revolution I am still waiting for... Access isn't it. Please comment on this rather provocative article. I am looking forward to hear your opinion on this important subject. Next week I will write again, tell me what you are interested in!