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Optimism is not my standard setting. Cynicism, realism, pessimism, depression, avoidance, angry ranting — those are my normal thought spaces. So, stick with me here. I’m trying.

See, we all know the economy sucks. Okay, maybe Ann Romney doesn’t know what it’s like to be one of “you people,” but most of us have looked around and noticed we’re spending more for the same or less. We’re getting pay decreases instead of raises even though we’re working just as hard or harder. We’re unemployed, underemployed, or caught in that space where we’re lucky to have a job we hate as much as we do. We’re cutting back and still falling behind. Corporate profits go up, employment figures and wages stagnate and stumble.

And yet, I’ve been noticing another trend. I’ve been noticing people using the internet to band together, to help each other, and to circumvent the banks and corporations that have been robbing us blind.

Sharing

Last year, I remember reading an article in Fast Company about the rise of the sharing economy. A few years before that, I’d heard of a couple switching houses with another in Europe for a year. The idea of loaning things one had to neighbors who didn’t was once common, but as communities grew and neighbors became strangers, the practice largely stopped. There’s something that feels ironic about the rise of the “community killing” “faceless” internet reviving that tradition of lending the guy down the street a hammer and sharing a car with a woman across town.  (While we’re talking about sharing, let’s not forget the ultimate in sharing: the public library system, which lets you borrow knowledge, entertainment and computers for the low low cost of nothing (well, except taxes, but you gotta pay those anyway).)

Longboard borrowed from Hubby’s coworker.

Used Goods

Almost everyone by now has heard of eBay and Craigslist and maybe even Freecycle, whereby you can get other people’s cast offs for little or no money. Bricks-and-mortar-wise, thrift stores ranging from old standbys like the Salvation Army and Goodwill to newer (Out of the Closet) or local charities like Poverello and  to even chain outlets like Plato’s Closet also let you pick up things you want or need at a fraction of the new cost. Granted, we’ve also seen such a rise in donations that places like the Salvation Army end up turning a lot of our donations to rags or bulk shipping them to developing nations, so maybe before we buy — even used — we should think about needs versus wants, but that’s a matter for another day. Speaking of needs/wants, though, let’s not forget books and remember that, even for those of us with shiny e-readers, best sellers and popular works especially are often cheaper at used book stores than as digital files. (I know, I know, money from authors…it’s a balance, people.)

Microfinance

There’s two paths or heads or waterparks — whatever — to this concept.

One is funding through sites like Kiva.org where money gets lent, in increments of $25, to businesses and individuals around the world. By harnessing the bank accounts, compassion, and business sense of individual people, farmers can get feed for livestock Peru, caterers in Los Angeles can expand, seamstresses Ecuador can get material… And I think those three elements are key. When banks make loans, they don’t see people; they see numbers. And people can choose to lend on Kiva in the same fashion — picking prospects likely to repay — but since it’s a small expenditure on the part of the lender, it makes it easier to lend because you think Emilio deserves the chance to expand his crops or Lisa could do something special if she could buy more parts.

The other path or waterpark is through sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Kickstarter claims to focus specifically on the arts, but they also have raised huge sums for inventors, especially those with iIdeas. Books, comics, games, movies, music, even a flour mill have been funded this way. It’s rather incredible to think that little people, the 99%, have made dreams happen through spare change and big hearts and we’ve been doing it by the hundreds.

Indiegogo takes the idea one step further by allowing campaigns to fund charities as well. While Kickstarter requires some sort of finished product that backers are essentially pre-ordering, Indiegogo allows a daughter to raise enough money to pay off the lien on her father’s house, a library get cooled off, animals to get help, and a musician to maybe get to the school of her dreams, and oh yeah, art.

Not to mention, Feeding Kate.

People Helping…People? Weird, right?

Maybe we really are on the verge of something special. Maybe we’re starting to realize we can help each other in small ways, banding together to do great things, instead of relying on big systems to look down and care enough not to step on us. Maybe we really are learning to pay it forward, to consider karma, to act a little more like Sabrina Ogden.

Maybe I’m just having a momentary lapse of sanity.

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