Possessing allows us to become the people we want to be. According to Lacanian psychoanalysis – we desire what we do not have because we want to make real our imaginary vision of ourselves. The increasing popularity of a so-called ‘sharing economy’ does not let this vision come true.

What we say has a meaning we are not aware of

Psychoanalysis is usually associated with Freud. There is no surprise in that – he laid the foundations of it. But afterwards there were others who were inspired by Freud’s ideas, those who pursued psychoanalytical thought concerning the human mind – among them was a French psychiatrist, Jacques Lacan (1901-1981). He revolutionised psychoanalytical thinking, because he primarily focused on language – he claimed that this shared communication system causes us to get entangled in a network of unexpected mutual dependencies. According to Lacan, ‘the unconscious [is] structured like a language’, and therefore we can express the unconscious through speech.

Jacques Lacan’s objects of desire

Lacan claimed that each of us has his own object of desire – he called it an other (l’autre) or a small ‘a’ (objet petit a) – something that one wants, but cannot have. It symbolises a lost perfection or, in other words, comes down to what we really want to possess. It does not necessarily have to be a physical object. A small ‘a’ is expressed in our behaviour, speech or activities – it is not something we could define, we can only speculate what our object of desire really is. According to Lacan, our whole life is sacrificed achieving this purpose.

Just to give an example – let us assume that John’s object of desire is being an elegant, powerful and intelligent man. He cannot exactly define what it means, so he cannot ever know if he has actually achieved his goal – he could be better anyway. But, aiming for this, John practices and invests in his self-improvement, buys expensive watches or cars, he does everything he can to develop. Lacan claimed that this is the point of human life – a continuous fulfilling of desire. When one desire is achieved, another one appears in its place. When John stops thinking about being such a successful man, he is going to strive for something else – e.g. a love lost years ago or a perfect home – and he is going to subordinate his life to it. Each of us would do the same, at least in Lacan’s view.

So is a sharing economy for us?

Lacan did not live to experience a sharing economy, which creates an illusion of possessing in an easy way. We rent cars, yachts, or even luxurious epilators. When you want to live for a while in an apartment in the heart of London, you use the Airbnb app; you want to watch a movie – you stream it on Netflix or HBO.  This minimises average user’s costs while simultaneously still providing the privilege of owning.

So why do we still want to have products, if we can use them?

Because ultimately renting does not satisfy us – we have a need to possess. A sharing economy, from Lacan’s perspective, is a bad idea; it never gratifies our needs, because temporarily owning a product only makes us desire it more. We will always strive for something, so objects which are available just for a moment fuel our urge for owning them. Moreover, when a product is finally ours, we can do whatever we want with it – break it, throw it away or change its purpose. Then we feel the true power.