Americans have spent too many years being afraid of strangers. And not only does suspicion breed unfriendliness, it's expensive. Because people share less than ever—only 50 years ago, telephones were still party lines and very few people had their own toilets—there's more stuff than ever, and more expenses along with individual everything. As Brian Chesky said to the New York Times' Tom Friedman, “There are 80 million power drills in America that are used an average of 13 minutes. Does everyone really need their own drill?”

It would seem that the logical answer is no. That sharing makes sense. But yet, people have been taught to be afraid of people you don't kow (everyone). I know I have been. 

The so-called sharing economy is changing all that, one (admittedly money-motivated) step at a time. Regular people are starting to share: We've all heard of AirBnB. I've used the lodging service to both rent out space and find a space to stay, and had positive experiences both times. It was great! I was able to make enough money from my home to pay for the rental in the city I was visiting (plus dinner). I just had to get over the difficulty of the idea of trusting a stranger in my home. But once you have rented your apartment (or shared a car, or a bike, or given a ride to a stranger from a rides board at a festival, or participated in a tool library system which was pioneered in Berkeley, and is now popular all over the country), you realize that there's a whole lot more of 'us' out there—people who respect each other and just need a place to stay/a ride/a drill and are basically good people, than there are 'bad guys' out to ruin all the fun. 

And for most of these systems, there are basic ways to vet—with social media, nobody is really a stranger anymore. 

Are there jerks out there? Sure. But they are in the vast minority—once you have started sharing, it seems strange that we don't already know that fact. Of course it's up to the individual, but for me, the benefits outweigh any small risks (kind of like driving itself, which kills thousands a year, but yet we all decide that taking to the highways daily is an acceptable risk).

So why isn't sharing just the way it's done? Maybe because the concept, if practiced, doesn't benefit businesses that want to sell a drill to everyone individually. 

“It used to be that corporations and brands had all the trust,” added Chesky, but now a total stranger, “can be trusted like a company and provide the services of a company. And once you unlock that idea, it is so much bigger than homes. ... There is a whole generation of people that don’t want everything mass produced. They want things that are unique and personal.”

I agree. I have limited finances and big dreams. I'm willing to share space, rides and more, to put up what I'm not using to save money, and lessen my impact on the planet. 

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

How the sharing economy has worked for me
I've been experimenting with alternative ways of living for some years now; sharing is my favorite budget- and planet-friendly aspect of the new economy.