THE BLOG

Sharing is Trending

10/06/2013 15:09 BST | Updated 09/08/2013 10:12 BST

Anyone vaguely familiar with social media sites such as Facebook will know that the word 'share' has come to mean a button we press when we want to prove to our 900 or so friends (sorry, 'friends') that we have a great social life or excellent music taste.

The good news is that sharing means a great deal more and has been undergoing something of a renaissance of late. This isn't just a hearkening back to the good old days when, aged ten, you would receive plastic bags full of mud-stained hand-me-downs every time you went to visit Auntie Mabel. No, this is twenty-first century sharing where goods, skills and ideas can be exchanged on a scale never before possible.

So far, mainstream coverage of this mass sharing, also known as collaborative consumption, has tended to focus on the economic impacts of sharing, namely the rise of the sharing economy. This is significant because it points to a growing recognition that large-scale sharing is set to disrupt the very foundations of neoliberal capitalism, namely growth. Companies whose success is predicated on people's desire for individual ownership of goods are starting to wake up to the fact that radically new business models built around peer-to-peer marketplaces are emerging. Fast.

Less discussed have been the cultural and social changes associated with the ability to share easily, at a significant scale and often beyond previous limitations, such as geography. Whereas pre-used goods were traditionally seen as the less favoured option in the face of their brand new, individually-owned counterparts, now pre-used has become pre-loved and what was once a hand-me-down is now up-cycled. You know something has become à la mode when it gathers its own set of buzz words quicker than you can say swish.

Both for- and not-for-profit online organisations are driving this sharing trend, including Airbnb, Covoiturage, Open Shed and OuiShare to name just a few. In the case of UK-based organisation Streetbank, which enables people to share and give away anything with neighbours via its free web platform, the ultimate goal is to establish an international sharing movement:

"Streetbank is an efficient, hyperlocal distributor of 'stuff', helping reduce landfill and save people money", says Streetbank founder, Sam Stephens. "At its heart is a desire to build a worldwide network of sharing communities in order to foster a spirit of generosity."

As online collaborative consumption organisations continue to innovate, so the fashion for shared and pre-loved goods continues to grow, something forward-thinking high street retailers are likewise tapping into. Charity shops, for example, which once represented functionality, necessity and affordability without any associated glamour, now use the very fact that things are second-hand - 'unique', 'vintage', 'sustainable' - as a selling-point, as Oxfam Boutiques, a more recent sub-division of the Oxfam charity shop network, demonstrate.

Belgium's Kringwinkels are another case in point. The organisation positions itself as a network of shops which puts environmental and social concerns at its centre. The focus of the messaging is not that items sold are second-hand but that each government-backed shop is unique and offers something for everyone: "quality at an affordable price. Originality is not expensive!", celebrates the Kringwinkels website.

So, friends, Romans and lexicographers the world over, take note: the true definition of sharing is not the act of reposting Justin Bieber videos on your e-walls, however socially necessary that may be. As the sharing economy continues to grow and the reuse sector diversifies and strengthens, a significant cultural shift is beginning to take place that sees people recognise the value in shared access to goods that goes beyond the perceived need for something to be new.

In the process, greater emphasis is placed on the importance of trust and community. This is the key to collaborative consumption becoming truly mainstream; this is more connection than an internet cable will ever provide.