Tom Atlee on the New Sharing Economy

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Tom Atlee:

"One of the key features of "the new economy" is sharing. More and more people are sharing housing, cars, bikes, tools, meals, skills, money, books, ideas, music, energy, recreation, projects, transportation, knowledge, problem-solving, visions, jobs, ownership, clothes, stories, time...

Sharing is a resource in hard times as well as a source of intrinsic meaning and satisfaction any time. To an increasing number of people, sharing offers compelling alternatives to the corporate-dominated money-saturated whole-society bustle we normally think of as "the economy".

They wonder: To what extent would we buy things and work long hours and struggle alone in separate homes and families if we could get our needs met by sharing?

The existing economy is designed to get us to look out for ourselves so that we'll consume, compete and work at paying jobs. It nurtures the illusion that we are independent, building lives for ourselves in a world where everyone else is out for themselves, too. Closer examination, however, suggests that such independence is largely a myth, a well-promoted appearance obscuring our profound dependence on the competitive buy-and-sell economy which, in turn, conceals our dependence on nature, culture, and each other.

When we buy our own car, own our own lawn mower, live in our own house, we don't need to coordinate with anyone else. We seldom think about the fact that most of our possessions sit idle most of the time. What we experience is the freedom of convenience and possession. We can do what we want when we want to do it. In exchange, we work 9-5 (or more) to get the money to buy the things that make us feel independent. It is an odd kind of freedom we have bought into.

In the existing economy we experience obligations not primarily to our neighbors, our communities or the natural world that supports everything we do. We experience obligation to our employers, to governments, and to banks, credit card companies, and other institutions of higher lending.

This entrenched economic dependence hides the fact that we are fundamentally INTERDEPENDENT: We need each other. We are intimately connected to intricately interdependent natural world. And we are co-creating the conditions of our lives and the prospects for our future, whether we know it or not. That is the bottom line reality underlying all that monetized economic busyness that sustains the illusion that we are separate, free and safe even as it binds us tightly to itself and to the money that drives it. The fact that the existing economic establishment is shaking at its foundations, however, reveals the fundamental truth of our interdependence.

Millions of people are feeling burdened by what they have and what they don't... worried about debt and savings... oppressed by work loads or jobs they don't like or don't have... alienated in a world that doesn't know them or seem to care about their real needs beyond keeping them alive, busy and entertained...

What would happen if we didn't actually need our own car, lawn mower, or house? I'm not asking "what if we didn't have access to a car, lawn mower or dwelling?" I'm asking "what if we didn't NEED our OWN copies of these things?" What if we could make arrangements with other people to share such things in ways that actually met our needs? What if we not only had access to the things we needed, but got community, friendship, security, free time and freedom from worry and hassle at the same time?

I'm not talking about a free ride here. We all know that sharing is not free. It involves obligations and responsibilities. Anyone who develops a reputation as a freeloader soon finds themselves unwelcome in a healthy sharing community. And a sharing community that tolerates freeloading will ultimately collapse. Sharing succeeds in a context of contribution and responsibility, woven with fairness into a fabric of common abundance. The more reputation we have as a dependable sharer, the more likely people will share things with us. They will know they can depend on us, and we will know we can depend on them. In other words, our interdependence can come to life and make life better for all of us.

Of course, a sharing network rich with generosity, empathy and charity - a community conscious of the full range of non-material treasures we have to offer each other - will have less problems with freeloading. Much seeming freeloading only seems that way because we do not bother to find, evoke, or appreciate the things that we have to offer each other, including joy, meaning, stories, companionship, inspiration.... Once we become grounded in quality of life rather than quantities of stuff or money, the possibilities for sharing expand exponentially, creating a sense of abundance even in the presence of some physical scarcity.

Whether or not we are inclined to share more with each other, one thing we all share nowadays is destiny. What happens in our lives and in our world, to us and our children, and to people far away across continents and tomorrows, and what we and they do about all that - is all deeply intertwined. As the links between people, between societies, between humanity and nature become clearer, it becomes equally clear that we aren't separately masters or victims of separate fates. We are collectively co-creating a shared fate.

Sharing our lives, our work, our mutual support, and our caring help us share the future we are co-creating so that we can make that future better. Not only does it enhance our lives, but we don't have to buy so many goods and services and that reduced consumption lessens our negative impact on the world. Conversely, when we want to have a positive impact on the world, sharing the effort increases our ability to do that.

Sharing is fundamental to the new economy, as it was in the economies that existed before money colonized so much of our lives -- economies that still exist in many rural, tribal, and impoverished communities. The new economy - driven both by economic crises (and their impact on our lives) and by the potentials of the internet - uses the Web to connect our needs and aspirations with others who can help satisfy those needs and help us pursue those aspirations. In addition, it gives us all an abundant forum in which to share the stories, ideas and activities of "the new economy". (http://tom-atlee.posterous.com/emerging-economics-3-the-new-sharing-economy)