Dispatches from the Frontiers of the Sharing Economy

There's some interesting stuff going on over at Shareable.net, the website-salon-activist venue that explores the outer frontiers of DIY, collaborative consumption, urban life, and the commons, all with an accent on innovations being pioneered by hackers, twenty-somethings and urban activists.

The website had a recent series on the history, growth and variety of crowdfunding projects, including a separate look at crowdfunding of social change. The site's tracking of new forms of collaborative consumption – tech-enabled forms of sharing, lending, bartering, and borrowing – is especially good. A classic example is AirBnB, a service that is the paid equivalent of Couchsurfing which lets people earn income by renting extra rooms in their homes to travelers.  Other examples include the operating system Ubuntu, ride-sharing, libraries and online reputation systems.

In a timely gambit planned months ago, Shareable is teaming up with the Parsons Desis Lab to host an event, Share New York, on Nov. 19-20, to discuss the challenges of making it in today's troubled economy. As the site bills it, “SHARE NY is designed to give you the tools, knowledge, and connections to help you create your own future – one that is more affordable, sustainable, and connected within a new economy that thrives on sharing.” The event hopes to bring together students, social innovators, designers, and entrepreneurs who have “created their own jobs and are pioneering new ways of working, living, and creating.”  More info here.

A few months ago, Shareable published a terrific e-book called Share or Die:  Youth in Recession, a collection of 30 essays, cartoons and instructional how-to's about the challenges of post-college life and work today. The volume includes essays about the state of Gen Y today; the trauma of moving from an elite college to the job market; the challenge of organizing the “precariat,” the vast army of temp and transient workers; the art of “eating rich, living poor”; and a guide to collaborate consumption; among other pieces. Edited by Malcolm Harris, the book can be viewed for free or you can buy and download a pdf for $15. 

In introducing the book Share or Die!, Shareable editor Neal Gorenflo tells about encountering “a weather-beaten, middle-age man who asked me for money on the platform of the Mountain View Caltrain station. I gave him three dollars. He thanked me, and asked what I did for work. I introduced myself, learned his name (Jeff) and we shook hands. I pulled out a card from my computer bag, and handed it to him as I told him that I publish an online magazine about sharing.

“Jeff lit up, 'Oh I get that, when you’re homeless, it’s share or die.'

“That got my attention and I asked him to explain. Jeff said that a year earlier, his girlfriend drank herself to death alone in a motel room. He said she wouldn’t have died had someone been with her. For him, isolation meant death.

“Jeff explained his perspective further, that he had no problem giving his last dollar or cigarette to a friend, that it comes back when you need it. But there are those that just take. You stay away from them.”

Gorenflo concluded, "The threat is not only one of biological death. Those like me, who are in no danger of starving, face a spiritual death when we act as if well-being is a private affair and gate ourselves off from the rest of humanity with money and property. We can neither survive nor live well unless we share. It’s my outrageous hope that the young voices in this book do for a generation what Jeff did for me – wakes them to the idea that sharing can save them and the world."

By bringing such voices into focus and hosting an ongoing conversation about different visions of the future, Shareable is an oasis of hope, great ideas and unexpected, socially constructive innovations.  Ain't that refreshing?