Sharing the World

Facebook_like_thumbIn the Age of Aquarius, possession is losing its significance. What is becoming more and more important is the access to the physical through the virtual. Access to information through the Internet makes it possible for us to use shared resources more easily and more efficiently, as a community. In that sense, we share the world. Now, more than ever. On top of that, we can gain from other people’s experiences of the available resources much more than before. These are also shared publicly and help us make our own decisions – doctors, hotel rooms, restaurants, attractions, cars, merchandize. By now, there is probably a review on every human activity possible somewhere on the Internet. The above image is probably one of the more familiar icons of that trend, the like button. It is a common feature in social networks, and other Internet forums, where users can express their support of certain content. Being out there with good or bad reviews is a strength but also a risk. Anyone can say whatever they think, including your market competitors. People looking for a place or a service may use this information to get the service or to avoid it. Your business or product may rise or fall based on how it is reviewed.

Human nature has not changed over time. Throughout history people were sharing their experiences, making reviews through word of mouth, and making decisions based on this information. As in many other areas, the new influence that the Age of Aquarius brings is the immense increase in the number of people who are now exposed to such information, and the amazing speed at which this exposure takes effect. If you think about it, there is no limit to the number of people who could be exposed to online information, and there is almost no limit to the speed of this to occur. All one needs is a cell phone or any kind of access to the Internet.

Lyft's pink car mustache (photo by Pkg203). Lyft is one of the many car sharing program in existence throughout the world.

Lyft’s pink car mustache (photo by Pkg203). Lyft is one of the many car sharing program in existence throughout the world.

The sharing of information allows people in cities and around the world to share real physical resources. A good example is the car sharing initiative in many cities in many countries. Car sharing is a model of car rental where people rent cars for short periods of time, often by the hour. They are attractive to customers who make only occasional use of a vehicle, customers who would not like the burden of maintaining a car, as well as others who would like occasional access to a vehicle of a different type than they use day-to-day. The organization renting the cars may be a commercial business or the users may be organized as a company, public agency, cooperative, or ad hoc grouping. The main platform for the many existing providers is the Internet and social networking. These initiatives, which became possible with the permeation of the Internet into our lives, forced even the traditional rental companies and car manufacturers to introduced their own car sharing services. Millions of people are now using these services around the world, and the field is growing. Airbnb, another example for sharing material property through social networking, is an online marketplace for vacation rentals that connects users with property to rent with users looking to rent the space. Property profiles include details such as user reviews and shared social connections to build a reputation and trust among users of the marketplace. Other elements of the Airbnb profile include user recommendations and a private messaging system.

Cloud_applicationsWhat does the Age of Aquarius hold in that respect? Probably much more of this resource sharing accessed through mobile applications, faster and in more areas. We see it already with the advent of cloud computing. Cloud computing lets users share files via the Internet while the Web-based service hosts the programs users need. Remote machines run everything from e-mail to word processing to complex data analysis programs, while the user’s computer runs software that hooks up to the cloud, like a web browser. Web-based email, like Gmail is an example of a cloud service. Picasa, the image organizer now owned by Google, is another example. Cloud services are usually cheaper, faster, and allow private people and smaller companies to have access to resources they could not have allowed themselves on their own. Even academic research is opening its doors to the common people, seeking to utilize their human capabilities, such as pattern recognition, as well as the cumulative computing power of their PCs instead of applying for usage time on expensive super computers. One such example is Zooniverse, where “citizen scientists” are helping scientists to find planets, to transcribe ancient texts, to study the weather, and so on.

Of course, all of that progress towards sharing the world through the Internet is not without risks. Among these are risks of quality, reliability, availability of services and data, security, complexity, regulations and legal issues, performance, reversion, and lack of standards. One of the most significant risks is that of privacy. Personal or professional data may be compromised, deliberately or accidentally. Personal data is already being used by advertisement programs that match the advertisements to the content of our emails or to our browsing history on the web. As the technology advances, so it is likely that the risks and especially the privacy problems will become part of our lives, whether we like it or not.

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