Sharing Is Not New

Sharing is not new, we’ve been doing it since we assembled into primitive tribes.

A few months ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to an insurance company in Iowa. They were intrigued by my focus on the Collaborative Economy (sharing economy, maker movement, co-innovation). We had a lively conversation, and they shared with me, “Jeremiah, we love what you’re doing, but it’s not that new! In the Midwest we’ve been sharing for hundreds of years. People share their farms, their land, their time, their crops, and their equipment. You see, it’s just called being a good neighbor.”

They made an excellent point. Sharing isn’t new. It’s the earliest form of behavior necessary likely born out of safety and prosperity of the individual. The axiom is true that “No man is an island.” We may be able to survive for a short while alone, but we cannot prosper without the community available in families, tribes, towns and cities and other groups. Sharing enables us to minimize the individual risk while allowing the community to yield greater benefits than those available to an isolated few. So, what’s different now? Aha! Excellent question!

Technology has enabled sharing to happen at greater scale and speed than ever before.  (I’m paraphrasing my friend Deb Schultz). 

“How is that?” you may ask. Location-based sensors, for example, help us to identify and track idle resources. Some call this “the internet of things.” Mobile devices and location-enabled apps help us to find and identify where those resources may be. I’m talking about iPhones and Androids. Mobile payment systems enable us to leave our wallets in our back pocket as become accustomed to the benefits of pre-paying by using apps on our mobile devices. Social graphs from Facebook and Twitter, along with other ratings and reviews systems, help us to find people we know and trust, who are in a position to offer us goods that we need. More powerful computers have emerged that can see this giant “Mesh” and make sense of it in the blink of an eye.

Those Midwest executives at that insurance agency were right! Sharing isn’t new, it’s a natural, human behavior. But now, augmented by new technologies like sensors, mobile devices, payment systems, social networks and powerful computer systems, we can share at far greater scale and speed.

Sharing isn’t new. It’s natural. Which is why it works so well. It’s just about being a good neighbor.

Except that now, aided by technology, we can be a good neighbor to strangers.

Image used within Creative Commons license by Wlodi