Like many parents, I teach my kids to share. It seems like a basic tenant of decent living, does it not? Well, not so for all folks. If you’ve ever read the classic Bel Kaufman short story, “Sunday in the Park”, and most of my former students out there sure as hell better have, you know that some kids can just be downright little assholes and that the sour apple on the ground did not fall far from the asshole tree branch of a parent standing right behind it. But should those who horde the treasures of the sandbox keep us from doing the right thing and sharing our lot? With the advent of technology-driven “sharing” based companies such as Uber and Airbnb, the very notion of sharing has been perverted by the sandbox hoarders of the 21st century global economy whose avarice has created an ever-widening wealth disparity and disappearing middle class.
Do you remember when you were a kid and your mom used to drive you to school, then go drive some folks she never met to the airport? Do you remember those delightful late nights welcoming strangers into the guest bedroom that used to be your dad’s office, you know before he had his benefits reduced? Me neither. My mom, though certainly on the lower end of the pay scale (remind me to write about gender pay inequality some other time), made ends meet as a single mother without renting out rooms in our house or driving people in her spare time. She simply made a living. Remember when people could do that?
Now, that’s not a given. Having a full-time position no longer translates to an inherent ability to provide for one’s family, and thus arises the need to supplement income via the sharing economy. While some people who drive for Uber or lease through Airbnb do so for some extra pocket cash, studies are showing that far too often the participants are pushed to do so through financial compulsion rather than the far more fun notion of, “Hey, let’s rent out that extra room so that we can save up for a trip to Aruba.” No, these folks are often lucky to still be able to afford a room in their own house.
Take my good friend in Boulder who rents out her small one bedroom in Boulder and stays most nights at her boyfriend’s place. They would like to move into her place together, but both of them working full-time, without children nonetheless, just isn’t cutting it. Or take a friend of mine who is a single mother of two. Recently let go from a corporate position, she drives for Uber to counterbalance the decrease in wages from her new job. Share and share alike, ladies!
Except that not everybody’s sharing now are they? No, the burden of sharing one’s house, one’s car, etc. is not being evenly “shared” at all. I am not impugning the character of any of the founders of these companies for seeing a growing need for people to “share” their things and profiting from linking that need with a market willing to pay them for those things (though I will say, with supreme confidence that Uber’s Emil Michael is an unmitigated douchebag).
They did not create the social imbalance; they are just using it to their advantage. And to be unfair, they offer reasonable compensation and unmatched flexibility. But make no mistake: this is hardly a positive social revolution. The sharing economy is instead the signal that the social schism has progressed beyond sustainability.
Not only do the have’s possess their home in San Fransisco and a condo in Tahoe, now they can, for a small fee, come borrow your house too! But go try to offer Mr. Burns $50 for a night on a cot out in the help’s quarters and you can pretty much guarantee that he will sic the hounds on your ass like you were Django Unchained. And so we decipher the true meaning lying behind the euphemistically-phrased “sharing” economy because when these bastards say “sharing”, what they really mean is more of their “taking”.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 words or less every TUESDAY and FRIDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com