Living in New York City really forces one to appreciate the concept of personal space, and ironically, makes people want to share less. According to CNN Money, New Yorkers have an average of 1,010 square feet of personal space per person. That's not very roomy and likely leads to oversharing between housemates and friends.
As we have seen in recent years, this concept carries over to the Internet. Teens are oftentimes major participants within the “sharing community” due to their adoption of social media and their willingness to participate, or even over-participate, online. While these teens might be willing to share, they oftentimes underestimate the reach of their posts. A Stanford study found that 220,000 Facebook users reported they underestimate their posts’ audience size by a factor of three. I covered the shift in social media and waning of Facebook within the teen audience in an article earlier this year. Yet, while their Facebook usage drops, teens still make up a significant portion of its user base. What’s most interesting are the practices teens have adopted and the content they choose to share.
Hitchhiking has climbed aboard the digital age
Getting a car has historically been considered a rite of passage for teenagers. But that seems to be shifting. With fewer teens owning cars, and even fewer getting their own licensees today (60%) versus 30 years ago (80%) by 18, it’s been reported that some teens have even been flocking to Twitter to find rides – long and short. Juliet Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College, attributes this phenomenon to their sharing community. “The sharing economy got big during the recession, especially among young people. It allows them to use technology to access more goods and services, while also allowing them to share costs. And that technology, for me, is what the car was for my mom: a gateway to more freedom.” And with teens, it has become especially popular “because younger generations grew up sharing things online, sharing files, sharing photos, sharing music, so they've been very used to sharing."
A word to parents: you can sleep a bit easier knowing that most teens stay within their social circles for rides and don't branch out beyond friends of friends on Twitter. However, some riders have reported that they are willing to hop in a car with a complete stranger they’ve met on the Internet – especially for longer rides. While there have been a few reported kidnappings, apps and services have been developed to try to mitigate the chance of problems. Regardless, the thought of hopping into a car with a stranger remains a cavalier practice and one I am not sure would have been adopted a few years prior. Yet, it’s not just ride sharing that's seen resurgence à la 1960’s hitchhiking.
Roommates for a weekend?
This new sharing community has also expanded into the rental and hotel marketplace. Users can now rent out rooms or entire homes to visitors for stays as short as one night. Start-up Airbnb is probably best known for this new sharing service. With Airbnb, transactions occur through credit cards and both guests and hosts have to verify their identities by uploading a scan of their driver’s licenses and connecting to Facebook – eliminating any possibility of anonymity. “Airbnb’s real innovation is not online rentals. It’s ‘trust.’ It created a framework that has made tens of thousands of people comfortable renting rooms in their homes to strangers. This framework of trust has unlocked huge value from unused bedrooms,” cites Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times. And it’s not just Airbnb that's offering this service. While Airbnb charges a fee, websites like couchsurfing.org, a “hospitality-exchange network that pairs travelers looking for a place to crash with locals willing to accommodate them or perhaps just meet for a beverage” doesn’t. Unlike Airbnb, however, couch surfing doesn't have the same robust background checks, making it a bit less safe.
In light of these recent trends, it’s clear that this digitally savvy sharing community is transferring its comfort level with its privacy into the off-line world. While sharing a Spotify playlist or Instagram photo may seem harmless, teens getting into strangers’ cars or apartments is much more nerve-racking. At the same time, I can’t deny the convenience and economics it offers – there’s a surplus of unused bedrooms and car seats – why not fill them with people who demand them? However, as we continue to improve the technology behind these new sharing practices, we will also need to evolve the safety of these tools and educate children on the appropriate way to utilize the digital sharing community in their everyday, offline lives.