The sharing economy gets a lot of press these days. Enable people to share something via an app—be it a car, tool, apartment, whatever—and there is likely to be a lot of people speaking breathlessly about how original or transformative this idea is to daily life.
There is something disingenuous about the heaps of praise ladled on the new barons of the sharing economy because the foundations are really quite old fashioned.
No one talks about the public library with breathless enthusiasm, but spend any time in a well-run public library and you will quickly gain an appreciation for how a community can embrace the sharing economy. Outside of a few books I have purchased as reference materials for my disaster bookshelf and a spontaneous airport purchase all of my reading material that comes in physical form comes from the Cedar Rapids Public Library. It’s not convenient for me, as I live on the north side of town many miles from its downtown location, but it has become my de facto source for books and movies the past six months.
It’s not just me either. Every time I visit the library it is being frequented by people who I perceive to be from all walks of life. My estimation is that in this age of “government is bad” thought from the talking heads of television journalism something as quaint as a library run by the government for the good of the community is probably akin to communism. While Joe McCarthy is spinning in his well-deserved grave I will gladly check out books for “free,” as a tax payer I know that some level of my income is redistributed and it does not bother me one bit.
The original sharing economy is broader than just the public library. I own a pickup truck and as any other owner of a pickup truck will tell you, “The day you brought that truck home you became everyone’s best friend.” Why? Because you have the vehicle that almost everyone in your neighborhood needs once or twice a year. Trust me, I have bartered the short use of my truck for everything from the obligatory six pack of beer—it helps to have a neighbor work in the beer distributing business when you want to get something new or unique—to more esoteric items like used kegs—it helps to have a neighbor who rents properties to college students.
The truck is just a tool in my opinion. And if you are the owner of a lot of tools you have been at the center of the original sharing economy since time began. Why does your neighbor need to buy a belt sander to round off the edges of a CrossFit-style jump box when you have the same tool sitting in your tool cabinet? The answer is that he does not need to go to the store. All a person needs to do around my neighborhood is ask.
This all comes back to community, which I feel is the ultimate bulwark against the potential threats of climate change and social upheaval. Community is the center of the original sharing economy and it does not take an app on a phone or a website or a new start-up company to make it happen. It’s about knowing the people around you. Novel concept, huh?
By the way, can I borrow a cup of sugar?