After the Gold Rush
5 years on and the enchantment with the “Sharing Economy” is over. Many who set out on the initial journey did not make it, and for now, only very few found gold.
When the pioneers ventured to California in search of gold in the in the 1800s, they were heading into the unknown. Seduced by the promise of wealth and abundance for all, thousands of migrant workers left their homes behind for this quest, losing many comrades on the way. And when they finally reached the promised land, they realized there was almost no gold at all, or at least not where they expected it.
Why did they set out on their journey in the first place? Financial opportunity? Fleeing failing economies? Curiosity? Purpose? While their reasons were likely as diverse as the people themselves, these explorers did have one thing in common: they were leaving something behind in the hope for a better life, freedom, and abundance.
‘Look at Mother Nature on the run’
When in 2011 TIME magazine proclaimed Collaborative Consumption (recently mostly referred to as the Sharing Economy) as one of the top 10 ideas that will change the world, it set high expectations for this nascent movement. After harsh times of economic downturn, it was believed to be able to address social, environmental and economic problems all at once. To idealists it appeared like a salvation. To opportunists, the moment they‘d been waiting for.
Now we can only look back fondly at those early times of abounding, and possibly naive, excitement and hope for these new models. For now, it appears only few are benefitting from the abundance of value that has been created by communities and entrepreneurs worldwide – few organizations that are starting to look suspiciously similar to those they were disrupting – or worse? The gold rush was not profitable for many who set out on the initial journey. And the biggest sacks of gold are going to those providing the picks, shovels and infrastructure, those fueling the gold rush itself.
‘Don’t let it bring you down’
Yet the problems we had hoped to solve still remain and are growing: refugee crisis, climate change, inequalities. Many are humbly trying to address these challenges, but their social impact is still too small and the value they create is not evenly distributed. Furthermore, the majority of entrepreneurs and innovators are choosing legal, financial and governance structures for their ventures that privilege financial investors only and often fuel the system they are trying to change.
But now is not the moment to despair. The pioneers in the American West may have been disappointed in their quest for gold, but instead they found something else. They arrived in a Promised Land, where they could start over and build something new. The gold rush stimulated trade, spurred technological innovation and ushered in America’s railroad era.
‘Heart of Gold’
What is impactful about a gold rush is not its promise, but the movement it creates and the place it leads us to. And once we have arrived there, what matters most is what we choose to make of it with the people that have come there with us.
We’ve made the journey all the way here, so now let’s have the courage to settle and build ourselves a home we want to live in.
For some musical inspiration, check out Neil Young’s album and song After the Gold Rush.
Photocredit: Andrew J. Russell via Wikimedia