Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sharing Our Toys

The tragedy of the commons is social science's explanation for why we need regulation of shared resources. Whenever things are shared it becomes a challenge to keep people behaving. It doesn't stop with kids and toys. Adults are really just big kids. We still have to learn to play nice.

Living arrangements are a good example. When you share a space with other people you have to deal with their habits. When I was at university there was a piano in the upper common room of our residence. I hadn't progressed much beyond Grade 2 so didn't really subject others to my ear thumping. I did get to sneak in when others who were more proficient than me were creating more pleasant sounds. It always frustrated me that if the TV was on, those watching would get irritated if someone started playing. If someone was playing, it didn't stop someone putting the TV on though.

When it came to sharing flats TV, cooking, cleanliness and all sorts of things lead us to believing that going our own way is the best plan. If it is your own place, you can be as clean or as dirty as you like. If you want to leave your dishes piling up in the sink until you do a binge clean. You can. If you want to clean every dish before you even start eating dinner you can.

Going alone is the simplest approach, but I do think we end up both missing out on a lot and wasting a lot. Shared cooking for example means you have to worry less about waste. I hate throwing food away. Having spent a lot of time living by myself meant I have tended to live hand to mouth. Lots of mouths brings more predictability.

Moving out of my flat and purging most of my stuff made me realise how much stuff we keep 'just in case'. This is true of both stuff and of space. I had a spare room so that I could have guests. I did have regular visitors to London, but it was actually empty a lot of the time. This is partly because I enjoyed the periods of having full control of my environment where I could let my closet introvert do his thing. I have only recently heard of and joined couchsurfing.com. The idea is that you allow people to come stay at your home. You get to meet people from around the world and travelling becomes more affordable. You can also choose when and for how long you share your space.

A key issue preventing sharing is trust. It would be great if social media can enable trust to have more fluidity. In the past trust has been carried through the grapevine through visual and cultural marks. Race. Religion. Gender. Language. We have seen how this is a flawed model. Perhaps there is a better way. A way for us to finally learn how to share our toys. Those 'cultural signs' are really just an agreed framework. A way of gaining comfort that people share your priorities. They prioritise TV and piano in the same order as you. They leave their dishes in the sink as long. They will share some bread and milk with you so you don't have to toss stale chunks with stuff growing out of it, and smell and glob half full cartons down the drain.

A shared art piece on the banks of a river in Whangarei

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