Change My Mind: Is Sharing Dead?

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We're meant to be part of the Big Society, sharing with each to get through the tough times... but... have we just become selfish individualists?

In our harsh economy, everyone's looking out for themselves (unless you're fortunate enough to be able to give away lots of your money), and the only thing we truly 'share' these days are pictures of our lunch on social media sites.

But then, you could argue, social media sharing shows we're still all about the things we have in common in life. In fact, some charities have reported their supporter numbers doubling as a result of social sharing - think Claire Squires' JustGiving page, which went viral and raised over £1million for Samaritans after Claire tragically died running the London Marathon last year.

So, are we all that selfish? Is sharing really dead? HuffPostUK news reporter Tom Moseley thinks so, but news editor Jacqueline Head thinks perhaps it's not so bad...

Can either of their blogs change your mind?


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Tom Moseley News Reporter, Huffington Post UK

Listen to this government's catchphrases, and you'd think we are a nation of sharers, happily mucking in for one another for the common good.

"We're all in this together," proclaims George Osborne, as he merrily slashes billions from people's benefits.

Then there's the Big Society, which conjures up images of people giving up their back gardens for the local community, holding bring-and-buy sales and volunteering as a police officer in their spare time.

Except that we're nothing like that.

If you don't believe me, pop onto the London Underground (your local public transport network will do, but London is in a class of its own). Watch people jostling through the barriers, barging each other out the way in the queue, then glaring at their mobile phones so they don't catch the eye of the one-legged pregnant woman standing up next to their seat.

We're a selfish bunch, and it's only getting worse. Ask yourself when you last shared something. Facebook doesn't count. Be honest, it was last time you ate out, when you shared the bill - and that was only so you could avoid sharing your money.

Sure, there are exceptions, like Toby Ord, who gives a third of his salary to charity. But one person doesn't count. And yes, David Beckham's donating his wages from Paris St Germain to needy children. Sure, we'd all share stuff if we were that rich, right?

In this era of X Factor-inspired obsession with individuality, children are brought up to stand up, show off and fight their way to the top. And while most of us don't make it to the top, wherever that is, we carry on being selfish, taking more food and buying more clothes than we'll ever need.

It's a topical time to be talking about selfishness, because for Margaret Thatcher's critics that was exactly what the recently-deceased Prime Minister stood for.

If they're right, the Iron Lady's work is just about done, 21 years after she left office.

Tale the British Social Attitudes survey which each year asks over 3,000 people about life in Britain. It's the most authoritative study of its type, and has been running for 30 years.

Recent years' findings reinforce the sad truth that we are no longer a nation of sharers, even if we don't like to admit it.

So while almost three quarters of us say there's too much inequality, only 34% say the government should redistribute more to solve it.

We certainly don't want to share the areas we live in. Housing crisis or no housing crisis, 45% of us oppose any kind of new development nearby, compared to 30% who would be in favour.

The percentage who think unemployment benefits are too high leapt from 37% in 2000 to 53% in 2010.

How about the world itself, surely we'll share that with generations to come? Not if we have to pay for it. Only just over a quarter would be prepared to stump up "much higher taxes" to protect the environment. Ten years earlier, that figure was 43%.

We're no less selfish in our attitudes towards welfare or foreign aid, opinion polls show.

Don't take it from me, take it from the authors of the survey, who said last year that "levels of altruism are falling in these straitened times.

"People are hostile to housebuilding in their neighbourhoods, less likely to make personal sacrifices to protect the environment and increasingly resistant to paying more for hospitals and schools."

It certainly doesn't bode well for the Big Society when even the Big Issue is losing sales.

Rather than being all in it together, 'charity begins at home' would be a better motto for this age - because there's not much sharing going on these days.

Jacqueline Head News editor, Huffington Post UK

You could easily be forgiven for thinking that our modern lifestyles have made us more selfish, less sociable and less likely to promote the idea of sharing - whether it be money, possessions, time or space.

A recent study showed young people were less likely to volunteer for a community service after using a mobile phone, bizarrely because they already feel connected to people, while others have suggested social media can make us depressed, or spend less time actually physically socialising with people.

But cast your mind back to times before the internet, before you could send a picture of yourself, anywhere in the world, instantly to anyone you liked (and often for free).

How many times were you able to share stories about your latest holiday, the band you've just seen, your future plans, a bad day at work or the amazing dinner you've just made?

True, you might have spent more time talking to your family and friends after the event - but chances are they would have humoured you only for so long, and the local chemist had botched your carefully posed photos, which also cost a fortune to develop.

You may have sent letters whilst travelling, or postcards, but how often did this tell the whole story, or really capture the moment you were trying to convey?

The fact is, we can all now share our most special and spontaneous moments with people wherever we like, whenever we like, and often for no cost at all.

I would argue this has made most people more willing to share their stories, more likely to keep in touch with their families and old friends, than ever in the past.

But it's not just about sharing personal stories. The number of social media campaigns used to drum up support for a cause, raise money for a charity, has become a new phenomenon in itself.

A study published in February showed UK charities have doubled their supporters on social media channels in the last year.

As stories become more shareable, we've also become more aware of social responsibility.

Would the Claire Squires Samaritans JustGiving Page have been able to raise more than £1m if it wasn't for the internet? In the wake of her tragic death, thousands of people from all over the world were able to log on and donate online - they didn't need to leave their homes, or their desks. They didn't even need to read about the story in a newspaper.

There are other cases too. There's the woman who donated her kidney on Facebook, the bizarre case of boy whose life was saved after a father posted a picture of him on the social networking site, and the well-documented groups set up to help save lives, online.

According to a presentation by JustGiving, more and more donations are being made online through email, Facebook, and even Twitter. And many of the givers are young people.

And a study published last month found good news travels faster than bad news on social networks.

So next time you're feeling cynical about the way technology is going, think again. It might just be the thing that helps you out in the future.



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