Quick thought on the ubiquity of sharing… Retweets, reposts, links, shares… there are countless ways to propagate information, funny stories, things of interest (and obviously I rely on that for people to end up reading here.)
But I began thinking yesterday… all of these shares are ‘non rivalrous.’ A rivalrous good, in economics, is one which is destroyed by consumption. If we have a pint of beer between us on a table, then me drinking means that you cannot – because my use consumes it.
An idea, on the other hand, is non rivalrous: if I have an idea and share it with you, then the knowledge has not diminished through use, but grown. As Thomas Jefferson rather poetically put it, ‘he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.’
The ‘sharing’ that is going on so much on Facebook and Twitter and other social networks is of this ‘non rivalrous’ nature. And we can see why it’s so popular – because it’s just so easy. It just takes a click of a button. And that’s a good thing.
But there’s a sense in which this sort of sharing does not cost me anything. And actually, that’s an impoverished view of what sharing should be about.
In the traditional sense, sharing has also been about hospitality. If I share my food with someone hungry, then that is rivalrous sharing, and that actually costs something. If I share my wealth, my property, my time – these are all things that are costly. And it’s this sort of sharing, this sharing that costs something, that I wonder may be being diminished in a more online world – even though we might not notice, because of all the other ‘shares’ that are flying around.
Of course, if something costs nothing…it can be worth very little. And, conversely, I’m thinking more about the importance and worth of rivalrous sharing, and how much more rewarding that can be than a quick click.
So…I hope you share these thoughts widely. But then I wonder if you might try to share something that is a little more costly than a retweet…because it’s that sort of sharing that will, in the end, change the world, a little at a time.