We checked out a Zipcar and drove it to Jamestown RI on Thursday to visit the in-process refit of Confetti, my father-in-law Ron’s boat. Beautiful weather, lovely day for a drive, and I find I actually enjoy driving more than I used to mostly because I never do it I think.
On the way back Friday morning, I found myself reflecting on how easy the whole process has become. If I decide I need a car for some reason, I can reserve one within two or three hours of needing it. I walk up to the car with my special card, the car reads the card, lets me in, and off I go with it. I have no idea why the big car rental companies haven’t adopted the same model, honestly — why do I need 15-30 minutes of human interaction for something that is apparently possible with a few clicks on a website?
It’s true that Zipcar is expensive — we spent $100 for the privilege of taking this car to Rhode Island overnight and returning it the next morning. Compared with the actual cost of owning, insuring, and parking a car in Boston, however, it’s a serious bargain. And that doesn’t factor in the time and worry that come along with owning something (you may own things, but they also own you).
I guess our recent decision to rent rather than buy in Boston is based on the same logic. I like being unencumbered, even though in America it is costlier than owning a place. (This is not true for example in Europe, where there is no subsidy to the home-building industry in the form of a mortgage interest tax deduction, and as a result many more people rent.) I wonder if one day renting an apartment will be as easy as checking out a Zipcar? Will the differences between a hotel and an apartment and a house continue to blur?
Now that I think of it, we’re going through the same thing in our Boston office at Red Hat right now. We’ve been blessed with strong growth there, which means that we are outgrowing our current space, and that means that some of us — managers like me, in particular, who spend much of their time on the phone anyway — will switch to “mobile desks.” This doesn’t mean the desk is actually mobile, which is too bad because that would be hilarious. (Especially if motorized… imagine managers wheeling around the office while talking on the phone…) What it means is that there are decent well equipped desks available in the office that no one can “own.” You just walk up to the thing and use it, and leave it clean when you’re done. I’m actually looking forward to this because it will mean I can’t pile useless junk on my desk.
I guess what all of this leads me to is, isn’t it interesting that I am moving into a world where there are fewer and fewer barriers to me moving around as much as I like, wherever I like? And what exactly is it that is making that possible or comfortable or desirable even? Is it that I have a strong network of “neighbors” that I do neighborly things with, online? Is it just that transaction management is so much easier in a computerized world?
What I find even more interesting is that the moment all this is happening is the same moment we find reactionary forces trying to rebuild the old walls around “nations” and “cultures.” I wonder if there is a measurable difference in car ownership rates, between folks who want more walls, and folks like me who want fewer?