Are you the main problem with Uberization?

Many now speak of the Sharing Economy, Uberization, and collaborative, participatory social systems. These new approaches are the beginnings of a new society in the making. But a society is composed of individuals. Certainly, interactions between individuals are the fundamental elements that define society. But there is something deeper than the interactions between individuals: the building blocks, the essence of a society are, in fact, the individuals themselves.

Having said that, we often focus on the systematic organization of communities in our current debate about ongoing transformation of the world, and tend to leave out the individual. Yet, the individual is the reason why the interactions occur, and make society into what it is.

Individuality and interdependence of human nature

In his book, A Brief History of the Future, the French futurologist Jacques Attali said the following about what would be, in his opinion, the deeper meaning of all advancement of human society:

"Viewed from an extremely long-range standpoint, history flows in a single, stubborn, and very particular direction, which no upheaval, however long-lasting, can permanently deflect: from century to century, humankind has asserted the primacy of individual freedom over all other values. It has done so through progressive rejection of all forms of servitude, through technical advances aimed at minimizing human effort, and through liberalization of lifestyles, political systems, art and ideologies. To put it another way: human history related the individual's assumption of his rights as an entity legally empowered to plan and master his fate free of all constraints - except respect for the right of his fellow man to the same freedoms."

To support this premise, the author offers hundreds of examples. He even supports his opinion by demonstrating examples of the opposite - even when humans tend towards sharing and altruistic activities, in the end, the individualism and selfishness systematically take over their behavior.

However, a counterforce is at work here: the idea of absolute interdependence on one another within the group. In search of respect for one's own individual rights, one ends up depending on others in a similar position, hence relinquishing one's complete individualism. For Jacques Attali, one of the driving forces behind this movement towards coexistence and interdependence is the technological advances in information science and communication.

Since the subjects of Sharing Economy, common goods and production by the masses come about, Jeremy Rifkin, an American futurist, put forward an additional theory to that of Jacques Attali in his book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society. He anticipates the end of capitalism through the development and rise of the Collaborative Commons. The internet reinvented trade, volunteering, hitchhiking, the guest room, art, and the lottery. Rifkin concludes that the Collaborative Commons will spread throughout the global economy and lead to the virtual destruction of capitalism by 2050.

However, this view ignores the analysis of the recent history of collaborative consumption. For example, the company Oculus collected $2 million through crowdfunding, and then was sold to Facebook for $2 billion. Those who participated in the crowdfunding responded loudly, expressing their discontent and feeling betrayed. In another case, the Huffington Post, a collaborative online newspaper powered by thousands of volunteer journalists, was sold for $300 million to AOL. That day, the journalists went on strike and demanded their share. It seems as though help is never about money... until someone wins money. We should be encouraging individuality, of course... But individualism, never!

Entropy and inertia to simulate our society

The French environmental specialist, Jean-Marc Jancovici, brings forward another argument in his book Transition énergétique pour tous. In his theory, the engine that drives change within societies is having access to energy. He supports his hypothesis by demonstrating the correlation between the availability of energy resources and the increase in GDP. According to his analysis, the rise and fall of human growth is directly correlated to our use of energy and the ease of access to it. He even compares the use of machines to an exoskeleton that allowed us to get more work done easily - instead of using a human workforce, we started to automate processes. However, if energy prices become higher than costs of human labor, these machines become inefficient at best and unnecessary at worst.

Jancovici's approach is interesting because it highlights the role of energy in human civilization. Let's have a look at his theory from a scientific point of view. According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a human society, as all systems, should have entropy and inertia.

Let's start with the assumption that entropy in this situation is individualism - it is the force that tends to destroy order if it does not renew its inertial forces that allow it to remain in a metastable state.

How can we counteract the entropy within a human society by a force that is at least as powerful? In other words, how can we neutralize our natural tendency to be individualistic? In the digital era, the answer is clear! Information is the inertia of our society today. We experience compassion, empathy, and sympathy when receiving information that triggers these altruistic emotions, hence overshadowing our individualistic desires.

Rare are the individuals who wish to exclude themselves from the group. An individual wants to exist within the group, among other individuals, but as a separate, unique, distinctive unit. For this to occur, the individual must have regular access to up-to-date, personalized, and original information. Individualism is not a fundamental human need, but individuality is. As is the need to communicate!

In fact, we can hypothesize that information exchange occurs with energy exchange. We could bring this discussion to a simple equation: the individuals use energy to express their individuality and the society uses individuals to diffuse their individuality (energy), and the cycle continues. Thus, entropy is balanced with inertia, and equilibrium is maintained in society. However, this stable state is maintained only if individuals have equal access to personalized information.

The Collaborative Economy gives individuals more freedom to make individual choices, and simultaneously brings people together to communicate and collaborate. Uber and other sharing platforms may be the embryo of a new society of the future, one that is more individual and more communicative. In this case, you are the challenge.