The Biggest Barrier to Sharing May Be Ourselves

Tania Liu/CC BY-ND 2.0

When I wrote about creating a neighborhood tool sharing network in under two hours, one reader asked me to post a follow up once we'd gotten a system up-and-running. As I completed my first "transaction" via the new network this weekend—borrowing a truck to haul some recycling and trash—I thought it might be time to issue a quick update.

Sharing is Really, Really Simple
Really, there's very little to report. And that's the whole point. We have not yet gotten a working Google Docs system up and running. We haven't set up a website. We haven't really done anything except start a simple email list, and start conversing with our neighbors. And the result is a perfectly workable system whereby neighbors can ask neighbors when there is something they need.

It's as simple as that.

Some Systems Do Help
We will, eventually, be setting up a listings/directory document. And as Annie Leonard of the Story of Broke suggested in our live chat last week, it's also not a bad idea to set some ground rules around what happens if an item breaks while it's out on loan etc. But in the meantime this is a useful reminder that there are very few barriers to sharing more and buying less. Few barriers except, that is, for one big exception...

Ourselves.

Social Hangups May Be Biggest Barrier to Sharing
As I headed over to my neighbors the other day to borrow the truck, I found myself fretting. Should I bring them some wine? What if I'm being a burden? I'd hate for them to think of me as a freeloader. etc etc. It really is amazing how many social constraints we have placed on ourselves that make sharing seem somehow out-of-the-ordinary, even (ironically enough) anti-social or irresponsible.

Humans Like to Share
Yet as the founder of one tool library in Portland has already argued, sharing is as old as humankind itself. It's only relatively recently that we've allowed ourselves to be fooled into thinking ownership, self-reliance and acquisition are somehow more important than access, interconnectedness and investing in your community.

Low-and-behold I needn't have worried. When I turned up at my neighbors house they were delighted to see their underused truck put to good use, and they assured me that they'd call on me some time to return the favor. While they scored a few extra gallons of gas out of the deal, I doubt they would have cared if they hadn't. They are, after all, human beings. And human beings have evolved to share.

We just sometimes need reminding of that fact.

Tags: Activism | Communities | Consumerism | Economics | United States

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