When Shareable asked me to put together this collection, I wasn’t sure how to start crafting a unified narrative about young people sharing to ride out the recession. There are just too many different lives, a multiplicity of strategies and tactics that's impossible to fuse into one coherent story. Sure, there are commonalities: un- and underemployment are huge problems, and the essentials ingredients that allow humans to thrive (food, shelter, interpersonal relationships) haven’t changed with the internet. But with mass-production out and customization in, individuals and communities are searching for their own particular answers.
So rather than starting with a story (or even a format), and searching out writers who would conform to that standard, we put out an open call to our young readers (and their friends and their friends) for pieces about issues that concerned them. Luckily, we have some talented readers. What we received was an avalanche of personal narratives, DIY how-to’s, and detailed economic and social analyses – even cartoons. The resulting project is just as structurally incoherent as we are, but no less useful for it. It's this scattered form that best expresses a generation that not only hasn't found its place, but doesn't seem particularly eager to settle down anywhere in the existing order.
Even though it wasn't premeditated, a narrative does emerge in Share Or Die. There's a common anxiety in the pieces in this collection, a well-informed fear that life will be different for young people just starting to come of age. The promises of the 90's and the early 00's, that society could only be improved, that shopping was patriotic, that the earth knew no boundaries for the determined, have turned out to be worth about as much as a tranch of sub-prime mortgage-backed securities. There's a sense of generational betrayal, a knowledge that those who came before weren't planning for a future with consequences. In the face of the unknown, these writers have come to understand they're responsible for making something new, even if they don't know what it looks like yet. Or, as Johnny Rotten put it: “I don't know what I want/But I know how to get it.”
“Share Or Die” isn't a threat, it's a reality. The title comes from a conversation between Shareable publisher Neal Gorenflo and a homeless man. Neal is the kind of guy who would just as well hand his business cards to panhandlers as venture capitalists, and as he started to explain the site, the man spoke up: “Oh I know about all that, it's share or die.” When he told me this story we had just started working on the collection, and as I jokingly suggested the phrase would make a good title, neither of us expected it to stick. But stick it did. We couldn't manage to call it anything else, even if we had wanted to try. The title doesn't just refer to the existential state of life with resource depletion, disappearing jobs, and stagnating wages. This young generation is going to have consume less as individuals (even if our only goal is to avoid drowning ourselves in melted icecaps), that much is clear. But there are kinds of social death too, and they're forms to which we've become accustomed and for which we've been groomed. In a world where homes and education have become tools for the financial violence of debt, where to begin? We need commensal ideas and practices in order to merely survive, but also to build a place where it's worth living.
This collection isn't a map, but if it had to be, it would be the explorer's kind, with dragons and sea monsters haunting its unknown edges. It's a series of forays into uncharted territory, each writer taking a different path, equipped with different tools. Collected here, they're stories from the front lines, advice and warnings, tragedies and comedies. You can follow Share or Die in a few different ways: you can jump to individual pieces from the clickable tables of contents, browse the pieces organized by tags, or flip from article to article according to your own whims and chance. Like youth, this collection has many possible paths, it's up to you which one to take.
This essay appear in Shareable's paperback Share or Die published by New Society, available from Amazon. Share or Die is also available for Kindle, iPad, and other e-readers. For the next article in Share or Die, Malcolm Harris's "The Get Lost Generation", click here.