#17 sharing
Frederik Caselitz / Maren Zeidler


Dear Readers,

What does it mean to share? While sharing used to be strongly associated with altruism, social media have imbued the term with a whole new range of meaning. With just one click, people can virtually share opinions, memories and photos with any- and everyone. While our former understanding of the word share generally involved an element of giving something up, digital sharing is different, as digital goods are not consumed when they are shared with lots of people. This new understanding has given rise to the idea of the shareconomy, a new economic principle in which cooperation would take the place of competition – according to some of its more optimistic proponents. Efforts are underway to transfer this idea from the virtual realm to our analogue world.

But to what extent does the shareconomy concept actually change the underlying principles that drive our economy? Do people share their homes out of pure goodwill when they offer a stranger a free bed for the night via couchsurfing? Or will we continue to be motivated by profit to open our homes, turning our flats into microhotels via Airbnb?

It is easy to overlook the fact that communal production forms are in no way a new phenomenon. And products that increase in value through shared use have been around for ages – just think of the language we share as common property. What is new, are the immense opportunities for cooperation that modern, decentralised technologies have created and which are entirely unhindered by spatial constraints. Issue 17 of Digital Development Debates explores the impulses this kind of speculation could contribute to development cooperation.

The way people share is, of course, closely linked to their respective cultures. Renowned ethnologist Charles Lindholm looks at three examples from three continents that show how envy affects our willingness to share. Tho Ha Vinh, Program Director at the Gross National Happiness Centre in Bhutan, offers an alternative concept of prosperity, positing that we should be measuring “national happiness” instead of gross national product, and explaining how in an interview. Cultures collide in a virtual experiment by Indian artist Amitesh Grover. He set up videochat spaces to bring people from widely divergent countries together to share personal experience and ideas.

Under the commons catchword, approaches for collaborative administration are the subject of controversial discussion at the moment. Historian and economist Friederike Habermann provides a theoretical framework for the shareconomy, while Peter Strack explores the potential of the commons more concretely based on traditional, indigenous communities in the Andes region. These ideas are brought to life in Rob Hopkins' Transition Network projects. Against the backdrop of the COP21, he explains how climate-friendly cities can be shaped and neighbourly relationships strengthened.

The spread of information is what creates a public sphere. Hildegard Willer expands on this idea by detailing the influence of local journalists on civil society in rural Peru. Blogger Thant Sin argues that freedom of information brought about by the Internet was the driving force behind the recent changes in Myanmar. Humanitarian affairs researcher Abiol Lual Deng emphasises the importance of social media as a source of information in conflict regions such as South Sudan, though not without warning of the dangers of its misuse as well. If these new options are to be used to promote progressive change, then knowledge must be accessible to civil society stakeholders and address the questions and issues of our time, according to Uwe Schneidewind, President and Chief Research Executive of Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. He takes a critical, close look at current developments at many international universities where research is not sufficiently focused on social problems and issues.

By sharing data, we can create change. The open source Freedom Fone program and the WeFarm platform both show how a simple cell phone can be used to create global networks of smallholder farmers, for example. The founders of these two initiatives explain the opportunities and challenges of this kind of crowdsourcing technology in great detail.

These and more exciting articles await in DDD Issue #17.

Enjoy the read and share your thoughts!


Frederik Caselitz & Maren Zeidler

Photo: “generations” by DIMITRI
2007 - licenced under Creative Commons Attribution (2.0)

Related Articles

“A Historic Shift in Conversation”

Transition Network aims at the mind sets of developed countries - seeking to transform the affluent Western way of life.

» more