One of the earliest signposts of civilisation was sharing. Humans are gregarious. Our ancestors grouped together out of fear and hunger. Family and community (tribe) emerged out of this. Life itself is a result of sharing. The entire biological cycle is based on the use of something as basic as sunlight or oxygen and, of course, procreation. What is love but sharing of emotion. Every relationship is based on give and take. On a broader level, all our needs and many of our wants are based on sharing. Interaction and interdependence are fundamental traits of our existence. Seldom do we think how primordial is the notion of sharing in the cosmos. All ecosystems are based on this notion. Nature is all about this.
If we look back on our own life, we can recollect much of who and what we are, which actually is shaped by our interaction with others. Caring, it is said, is sharing. From our birth our parents and other older members of the family shape our lives. In fact, procreation itself is an outcome of a union of two bodies in a particular moment in time. We learn by observing others. The food is shared, even if sometimes unfairly. Friendship and other affiliations are founded on an exchange of emotion. Education is based on sharing knowledge. Work and play depend upon our ability to participate in an exercise which involves one or many.
All joy and sorrows, dreams and memories, longing and belonging, fear and hope, victory and defeat, even solitude—every experience is underlined by this feeling.
Relationships are built upon the basic premise of shared emotions. Each moment of our life is interlaced with what we give and take. The sense of belonging, which gives us an identity, is linked to another. In isolation, life loses its meaning. Caring, or the absence of it, is what defines our existence. Our five senses get a context when there is someone to be a part of the experience.
Thousands of years ago, before money was invented, resources and skills were shared through barter. This continued to be the norm for centuries. While precious metals and stones became the determinant of value in trade and commerce, barter exists in some form even today. Another form of sharing is actually giving. It may be done through filial love, societal needs or just altruism. It developed over centuries into a robust system of business. Of course, in time currency overtook the barter system but the basic principle remained the same. One shared a skill, resource or work with others, and in lieu of that, got compensated. One can argue that this is mere sale or rent of goods and services. Well, many people do much more than what they are paid for or what the scope of their work is.
All religions use sharing as a leitmotif. Communities survive on the contribution of their members. Voluntary public infrastructure, even when it is paid for by the state, is used by all. The entire not-for- profit sector (also known as social work) is based on a desire by people to do something for others. Philanthropy and charity for centuries stem from a desire to share with the less fortunate. Walk down a street in a crowded city or roam the wilderness, one will see enough evidence of giving, help and interdependence. In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna keeps talking about it. In one of his discourses, Swami Nityanand quotes this shloka from the Gita:
(Sharing of understanding is far superior to sharing of wealth. Oh, scorcher of enemies, all these are actions culminate in the experience of consciousness!)
It is not only sharing of wealth and resources, but of understanding and knowledge which enrich the world.
Today, the sharing economy is usually used to connote services like Uber, Airbnb, Ola, Urban Company, Swiggy. It is about leveraging individual needs and demands in a collaborative manner. It amounts to a paradigm shift from ownership to use and pay model. There is an increasing number of people, especially in developed economies, who are happy renting a home or a car instead of owning it. Serviced apartments and car rentals are a prime example. More and more people across the world are today marketing and monetising their produce, property or profession. The Airbnb model also exists where people have let out a part of their homes to others for tourism without creating any encumbrance. Sometimes, extras like meals or other perquisites are thrown in.
In the last two decades, digital technology has enhanced the concept of sharing—from early file sharing apps and peer-to-peer networks (Wikipedia, Apple Music, YouTube, et al), which basically means sharing computing power of millions of computers spread around the globe to blockchains, bitcoin and millions of other apps. Social media, which is defining contemporary life, is a manifestation of multicast—the ability of everyone to interact with anyone. The omnipresent mobile phones are connecting people like never before. In the digital world, the empowerment of connected people is the cornerstone of human endeavour. Five billion people today share their thoughts on social media.
As futurologist Bernard Marr said a few years ago, “In fact, as millennials enter adulthood and the middle class, the trend seems to be for them to own less stuff.” The success of ridesharing, food delivery, farm to fork, online gaming to simple user-generated content and co-working are all a part of the rapidly growing sharing economy. Never before information has been shared by so many. Ecommerce has opened new vistas, unimaginable till the invention of the internet, for individuals and micro businesses. Today, we even have people generating electricity through non-conventional resources like solar and wind and sharing it on the grid.
We are now in the age of collaborative consumerism. Leveraging digital technology and connectivity, almost everyone has access to the same goods and services. The new economy is built on the idea of sharing resources in an efficient way. The sharing economy connects individuals who need particular products/services with other people who can render it. Networking has assembled a pool of talent and skills which is available on demand depending upon other variables like location, time and convenience. The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken up some the constituents of this economy. Yet, others have prospered. With time, this virtuous cycle will only grow. Look at user-generated content. Never before has it been easier for artistic expression. Millions of individuals are leveraging the power and reach of a connected world. More is being shared today in an otherwise impersonal world.
Thinker and digital storyteller Peter G McDermott has summed it well in a blog: ‘No matter what your opinion, whether it is left, right, or straight down the middle, you will never make an impact unless you share your thoughts and ideas. When we collaborate and exchange these thoughts and ideas, we learn more about ourselves and apply the knowledge to making better decisions.’ Human progress depends on sharing. Like a plant shares its produce with others and multiplies itself, so do all other forms of life. Even a single cell or atom has to combine with something else to reproduce and grow. The universe is what it is because from its beginning (if there is), its journey beyond time and space is too concomitant with sharing.
We discover ourselves by what we learn from others. Our senses and emotions find a context because someone, somewhere, sometime explained to us what to look for. Sharing gives meaning.
Urdu poet Sharshar Sailani has put it beautifully in these lines:
‘Chaman mein ikhtlat-e rang-bu se baat banti hai, hum hi hum hain to kya hum hain, Tum hi tum ho kya tum ho’
(A garden is magical with a combination of colours and smells. What am I alone and what are you by yourself?).
Share a tear, share a smile, share pain, share joy—and win.