In the 20th century, the concept of personal ownership became entrenched in the developed world. People lived in homes they owned and moved to and from them with specific cars, bikes, or scooters they also owned. Society turned this idea of personal ownership into an ideal to be pursued. This perception grew in spite of the downsides and inconveniences of owning and being personally responsible for expensive physical assets that age, decay, break, and are all too often stolen. But now, the rise of new technologies has opened up the possibility of a smart mobility future where people around the world enjoy the benefits of ownership without the burdens. This is the paradigm shift from ownership to participation.

Nowadays, we can see a small example of the way this participation model works in many of the world’s leading cities. In places like Dublin, Berlin, and New York, citywide bike-share programs proliferate. Individuals purchase a membership, and in return they receive the unlimited use of any of the thousands of identical bikes placed around the city. They reap all the benefits of bicycle ownership without having to worry about storing, maintaining, or securing any particular vehicle. This has increased mobility, convenience, public health, and quality of life in these cities. It helps us to dream of a future of zero accidents, zero emissions and zero ownership.

The principle of bike-sharing will soon be applied across many types of assets thanks to advances in technology. The “sharing economy” is already a part of everyday life for millions of people around the world. They use car-sharing services to commute, build their businesses in shared workspaces, and even live in shared “co-living” arrangements. These are illustrative examples of the ways in which technology can rearrange the essential ingredients of our lives.

But these examples only scratch the surface of what a participation-based model has the potential to become. Individual ownership of vehicles exacts a heavy toll on both owners and their environment. Anytime I fly from city to city, I am saddened by the vast seas of asphalt that have gobbled up the landscape to make space to park unused cars. People spend huge chunks of their lives in traffic caused by other drivers looking for parking. Currently cars, bikes and other assets have a very low utilization rate – they are sitting idle and using space and resources for over 90% of the time. Fortunately, there is a way to relieve these burdens without robbing people of their independence. We can harness technology to make the vision of a participation economy a reality.

bike-share business Citi Bike users are pictured riding through the streets of Manhattan on March 21, 2014 in New York City. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

It is important that we set a clear vision about the world we want to build, and that we build it in a collaborative way that allows benefits to flow to all participants. We should not assume that technological advancements alone will guarantee that systems evolve in optimal ways. The Internet is both a shining example and a cautionary tale of the long-term ramifications of the decisions that are made by early innovators. We must be careful to build a participation economy that is sustainable, one that empowers the individual user.

In my view, the key ingredient is (ironically) “ownership.” Not direct ownership of a single asset, but a material stake in the networks one uses to move through the world. Through this idea of participatory ownership, we can start to correct the negative trends emerging around the sharing economy, in which workers are treated as nothing more than economic units, and customers have no recourse against large, monopolistic service providers.

I envision a future in which people have ownership without burden, owning real equity in the systems in which they participate without having atomized responsibility for the full maintenance of those systems. In the evolution of my own companies, we are moving beyond just the building of vehicles toward creating the connected mobility platform that participants actually use. It is this kind of technology that can give ordinary people more autonomy by freeing them from the constraints of ownership as we now think of it. There is no question we can build this world with technology. Now, we must set about doing it.

(Mate Rimac is the CEO of two European high-tech mobility companies, Rimac Automobili and Greyp Bikes, where he is building out a connected mobility platform to foster his vision of zero accidents, zero ownership and zero emissions.)