The Sharing Economy Is Taking on a Whole New Meaning These Days

A book shared by a neighbor and left on your doorstep may be the best book in the long run. Albina Bugarcheva/Shutterstock

Companies that disrupted the way we traditionally have done business — Airbnb, ZipCar, and Uber, to name a few — seem to have hit the same major roadblock we're all facing: a fatally contagious virus that's forced us to rethink the way we share.

As a result, they're falling on hard times. Even industry stalwart Airbnb is feeling the pandemic pinch. The short-term rental market is, understandably, in tatters.

It's one thing to share public spaces. But what about sharing people's homes and their cars?

This isn't about being a germaphobe. These days, it's a public health issue. And it's seriously impacting the bottom line of companies that, ironically, turned a profit from a communal lifestyle.

The thing is, there's a much older sharing economy that predates even Uber — one that our parents and their parents before them have long relied on.

The original sharing economy

Glass jar of flour with a wooden spoon
To keep flour fresh, a glass container with a good seal is the way to go. threerocksimages/Shutterstock

"There's a lot of flour, sugar and yeast passing from neighbor to neighbor these days, even if we're just leaving it on one another's doorsteps," Mike Allen writes in Axios. "We may not rush back into shared spaces — but we've experienced a profound demonstration of interdependence."

And you don't actually have to personally know a neighbor to partake in it. Just about every neighborhood has a Facebook group where locals can arrange to share everything from jigsaw puzzles to kids' toys.

There are apps too, like Nextdoor and Olio. Even those tiny boxes, known as Little Free Libraries, are getting into the spirit of things. Instead of dispensing books freely to the neighborhood, they're getting stuffed full of staples like pasta, peanut butter and toilet paper.

Of course, in pandemic times, every kind of sharing — whether it's an Uber ride or a neighbor's jar of peanut butter — comes with the same caveat: Be wary of those surfaces and disinfect accordingly.

But a book borrowed from a neighbor, rather than a public library, is probably a safer bet, having been passed around by fewer potentially problematic hands.

Besides, there's a certain warm fuzziness about things shared between neighbors.

This system is predicated on kindness over capitalism. And these days, that may be the most valuable currency of all.