Friday, February 3, 2017

Trade, ancient and modern: from China to the Sharing Economy

Two micro-reviews for on The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia, the other on Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing.

The Silk Road consists of several chapters in central-Asian history, with generous photographs of the landscape or art connected to the region. If readers are interested primarily in the Silk Road's heyday, the volume may be mildly disappointing, as the chapters on exploration, archaeology, and looting in the 'modern' age (19th century and continuing) constitute half the book. There is much of interest, however, and all of that archaeological looting is still firmly connected to central Asia's golden age. I would read it as a supplement to a more substantive history of the Silk Road trade than a history of it, however.

Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing introduces the notion of 'mesh' businesses, which sustain themselves on a great deal of interaction between customers and the business itself, typically involving 'sharing' resources.  Sometimes the business may merely be the platfom through which customers interact with one another -- AirBnB, for instance. The book is written almost as a pitch, urging people in the wake of the Great Recession to consider what kind of mesh businesses they could think of. The author argues that the market is ripe:  because of the recession, trust in traditional brands is or was at an all-time low, and people are more willing to experiment.   Many successful companies were founded amid recessions, says the author, because their founders saw a way to create something useful in the rubble.  Because mesh businesses are all about using goods more efficienctly, they can grow even in an economic crunch: indeed, that's their selling point. Why waste money buying a car when one can be borrowed at-will through Zipcar?  This more efficient use of resources is also more sustainable from an environmental point of view: to use the same example, a Zipcar's pollutants are not only spread out among many people's use, but they and services like Uber mean that cars no longer need to waste their potential sitting around in a parking lot or on the street all day,  consuming space or clogging the arteries of trade.    I found Mesh interesting, but slightly dated, not mentioning services like uber which were technically around back then,but hadn't exploded in popularity the wav they have now.  

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