What do we mean by sharing?
Sharing seems to have become a social media term of late. We share information, pictures, news. Here I am, joining in, by sharing, whether you like it of not, a picture of me (on the right) and my cousin, way back in something like 1966. But this so-called sharing isn’t really dividing resources between people, or even its more modern meaning of confiding – it’s more like broadcasting (which doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing, it’s just not the same thing). At the same time, the kind of sharing of resources (like the apple), or sharing which involved confiding in others (the good and bad), that most of us just did without thinking about it a decade or two ago seems to be gradually diminishing. Broadcasting might lead to the other kinds of sharing, and is important in many contexts – but there are no guarantees, even though I suspect it’s that connection that many of us are after, consciously or not.
This photo was of course taken before we thought of beaming it to total strangers, and before ‘selfie’ days. Well, nearly. The selfies we have got are whole group photos where the camera was precariously balanced on a rock whilst the timer allowed just enough time for the photographer to run to the group, trip up and land with a fixed smile and awkward pose and be forever preserved in the annals of time.
The old kind of sharing meant sharing bathrooms and bedrooms, sharing a phone, sharing a telly, sharing meals, sharing transport – before my time, it also meant sharing common ground, sharing ovens to bake in, sharing toilets between many households. Pubs meant we shared an evening’s heat and light, and entertainment. This gave us many opportunities to share in terms of confiding too – the day to day ups and downs, not just the crises or triumphs. Most of us in the Western world have gradually moved away from this. Technology, aspiration and relative rising wealth has led to an individual approach to almost everything. Our phone conversations are no longer overheard by family members passing by in the hall, many of us don’t know what it’s like to wait for the bathroom, and we may never have to negotiate over who’s going to watch what. We may never shop where we have to wait our turn to be served. Ready meals and microwaves make it possible to feed ourselves and no one else. It’s all more convenient and less aggravating, and seems to be less effort.
But what’s being thrown out with the bathwater (which we no longer have to share either)? There are risks to our mental and physical health with these lifestyle changes. Loneliness can be highly damaging, and extremely distressing. Older people are often particularly at risk and it’s this that the recently launched Silver Line is set up to address. These initiatives are good ones but they seem to highlight to me what we’re up against. Through our enforced sharing of all kinds of resources in the past, came social contact. It’s easy to romanticise it through rose-tinted glasses. The reality was that much of it was irritating, and involved uncomfortable conflict and a lack of privacy – but we had no choice. Now, we do have a choice. We cut out the irritations which feels good to begin with but can leave us isolated, at any age. As with so many other areas of modern life, we are in a position where we have to actively decide to join in, and that means accepting the rough with the smooth. It’s very often easier, and much more appealing, not to in the short term.
In the long term, however, sharing is an important aspect to our survival, both in practical and emotional terms. It’s partly why I felt so pleased that my County Library service has decided to stock my books – I make no money out of that at all (I supply the books at cost and it certainly doesn’t look as if there are royalties on the few copies in circulation in this way). Libraries are an efficient example of one way of sharing certain resources. Not only does it mean more equality of access to books and other materials, but it also means people interact, with staff and with each other, when they visit a library. It’s one small strand of defence against loneliness even though it may come with irritation that the book you want isn’t in, or someone else turned the page corners down.
It’s a trade-off. One which I think is worth thinking very hard about before we turn our back on it, and suffer the unintended consequences. Not easy.
Fancy an apple? I think I’ve got one left…