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Sharewashing is the New Greenwashing

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3. Big Brother is sharing you!

Finally, we reach the point where the word "sharing" becomes virtually meaningless, even contentless. Social media sites like Facebook urge us to "share" information, data, locations, birthdays, our moods and most recent purchases, with an expanding crowd of "friends," but more significantly with Facebook (or Google, or Twitter...) itself. The "Big Data" these internet behomoths amass through "sharing" is worth big money. But that's not all: information also equals power.

By sharing your information with these companies you are allowing them to track, collect information on, and even anticipate your movements, choices, and social interactions. Now, hey -- some people find this pretty convenient! Others of us find it chilling, even dystopian. My point here is to ask: why call it "sharing?" This is the point where the bottom-up dream of a sharing economy is translated into the top-down code of a marketing algorithm. It doesn't help that a number of "sharing economy" sites --such as Lyft (see above) and Yerdle -- rely on Facebook's built-in surveillance system to identify and track users. One meaning of "sharing" blends into the other, and the verb itself becomes intransitive, without object or content, just a vague call to "share."

So what's wrong with this?

Sharewashing does more than just misrepresent things like renting, working, and surveilling as "sharing." It does more than just stretch and contort the meaning of the word "sharing" until it practically loses all meaning. It also disables the very promise of an economy based on sharing by stealing the very language we use to talk about it, turning a crucial response to our impending ecological crisis into another label for the very same economic logic which got us into that crisis in the first place.

What has driven our economy of overconsumption so far? The need for growth, based on the need for investors to make a profit. So for over a hundred years it has been all about growth -- find new markets, develop new products, find new ways to get people to consume. That economy's gotta grow, baby. And all the for-profit sharewashing companies listed above are also growing big time. They don't counteract the growth juggernaut of the mainstream economy -- they add to it , because they share that economy's market logic of neverending growth for profit. Those spare rooms, empty car seats, and idle hands can be translated into money, once they are brought to market. Social relations which might have been characterized by real sharing are brought back under the aegis of monetary calculation and the logic of growth.

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What we need is not more of the same old problem. What we need is degrowth -- less consumption, less consumerism in general. We need sharing -- and a clear idea of what sharing is and isn't -- if we are to move beyond a doomed economic model in which money is the measure of all things. The goal of a sharing economy gives us a chance to do that. Let's not let sharewashing nip it in the bud.

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Anthony Kalamar is an independent scholar and writer on environmental and technology issues.

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For more on the "fuzzy objects of sharing," check ... by Anthony Kalamar on Monday, May 13, 2013 at 1:10:14 PM