By: I. Bakic

The concept of sharing things and services among groups of people dates back to the beginning of human kind. The interesting question is, how and when did we forget that, and what made it ‘come back’ as a new-age phenomenon.

Today, there are numerous online communities dedicated to exchange of goods. You can get a bicycle, or a couch to sleep on, or someone’s furniture, and probably, somewhere, much weirder things. This being an ancient idea, making it popular again is only a matter of clever reinvention in a digital context, and making it appealing. But that is the easy part of talking about such initiatives – the more difficult portion of the discussion deals with conditions that these projects sprung out of.

Since we can probably make an argument that online sharing systems are a reinvention of natural human behavior, the intriguing thing to think about is the gap between ‘the old ways’ and today’s sharing platforms. What exactly led to discarding the traditional way of lending and borrowing, and what happened in the 21st century that it is once again an acceptable lifestyle? Of course, this requires thorough research; but let’s try to draw out a base for discussion.

It seems like a logical conclusion that trading of sharing systems originated from pure need. In smaller communities, certain things were too expensive or to big to be owned by everybody, so it was natural to share them. When TV first became available to the public (in Croatia, for example), most people obviously weren’t able afford it, but those who did were willing to share their TV time with neighbors. Same goes for cars, or washing machines, or other technological improvements.

Naturally, the change in technology is full-speed, so suddenly everyone is able to afford things: a car, a house, a computer, and everything in between. The technological advancement and globalization of the ‘western world’ obviously had very many benefits, but it also had some side-effects, like consumer culture that makes you want to buy and own and have things, or societies composed not of communities but of alienated individuals. Sharing became redundant because everything was your own. This could also be a condition of post-war societies: experiencing poverty or loss of home or a general lousy life could have led to the same results. Security is seen in the form of having a  house, and a car, and enough food and your own possessions: something that was unavailable before.

So, what made this kind of a society turn back to sharing systems? The answer may lie in demographics. People using online sharing communities are generally a young generation of the so called developed countries (again, I’m lacking evidence, but I would say this is a pretty safe assumption). That would mean that, for the most part, we have been living a great life. We can all go to school, we have food, no one is forcing us out of our homes or countries, we have access to all the information in the world. (I know I’m risking sounding offensive, but what I’m trying to say that as a generation, we are pretty privileged.) Then again, we found ourselves in a mess of a world, and we’re expected to fix it. What is the way, then, in which sharing systems fit into this?

I see it as a part of an alternative lifestyle that tries to deal with global problems we were handed, as well as trying to find a ‘new cool thing’ that the society can aspire to. Since we’ve seen too many terrible things come out of it, the concept of ‘having things’ has stopped being a desirable one. Because we have, we no longer want. It is something else that these lifestyles are looking for. Rather that owning, ‘people of today’ turn to their neighbors for help and cooperation, because there is a sentiment in those actions, an emotion that is a personal one.

It is interesting how a simple and ancient concept like this one can travel through time adjust to its conditions. In various contexts, it is used by different people, in different times, and with completely different goals. But still, it is the same principle every time.