Aside from promoting a spirit of community, the Sharing Depot’s model is also financially beneficial for the people who use it. Borrowing instead of buying can save money, and it makes it easier for people to obtain things that would usually be beyond their means. “It levels the playing field, when everyone has access to the same things,” Dyment explains. He says his kids can now, for instance, “get new toys every week if they want to.” Likewise, when Dyment sold his car and started using a car-sharing service, he says it saved him $10,000 a year. People who share don’t “have to play this game of ‘How do I get enough digits in my imaginary bank account to access these things?’” he says.
And sharing is of course easier on the environment. “Our economic model doesn’t work with the environmental needs we have,” Dyment says. “I think we need to move to a situation where people are working less and consuming less, but they’re sharing more.” He laments that so many mass-market products are now made not with durability in mind, but with an eye on planned obsolescence. Stronger, longer-lasting products would be, among other things, better for sharing.
Today, it’s taken for granted that nearly all objects belong to someone. But while the spirit of the Sharing Depot is a break with the present, it has historically been the norm: Hunter-gatherers—which is what humans were for most of the time they’ve been humans—are thought to have shared nearly everything.
According to Sam Bowles, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, hunter-gatherers likely didn’t have a conception of private property. “Among mobile hunter-gatherers during the late Pleistocene, food was almost certainly widely shared as it was acquired,” Bowles wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “If you didn’t share,” he says, “you’d be violating a basic social norm.” And according to the anthropologist David Graeber’s 2013 book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, the Iroquois used to stockpile goods in longhouses, and women’s councils would decide who could use what. This jives with the communal storage spaces that archaeologists have found at the sites of villages of some hunter-gatherers who were among the first to turn sedentary.
This idea of sharing everything matches observations of hunter-gatherer tribes that still exist today. “They’re very free with one another’s things,” explains Daniel Everett, an anthropologist at Bentley University who spent years studying the Pirahã, a group of hunter-gathers in the Amazon. Everett remembers lending things to the Pirahã, only to find that the borrowers were “continually mystified” when he came back to pick up an item. “They are always incredulous when I’d come over to get it,” he says. “I wasn’t using it, and they needed it, so what’s the big deal?” He explains that, while one person in the group might primarily own an object, the property is all but private. “They frequently take each others’ things, and there’s no fuss about it,” he adds.