Wednesday, January 18, 2012

To share or not to share...

This is a big debate in the software industry freeware, shareware v/s proprietary software. Here I am confining to more mundane physical matters (hardware if you please).

I am reminded of a travelogue by Dinakar Desai a great chutuku writer in Kannada (chutuku is a small four liner with a hitting message) about his experiences in England when he went to attend a conference (in the 60s I think). In a bus or train he asked another passenger (English) permission to borrow his newspaper, this being a pretty common practice in India. The Englishman haughtily answered "We don't lend papers, we buy them". In his writing Desai appreciates their sense of paying for a product/service.

However the question remains in my mind - what is right? It depends on the context of-course. In the context of the economy, the producer is happy with as many of his products are sold. But in the bigger context of the environment and the purpose should it be so? Is it not okay for more than one user to take advantage of a product already produced thus meeting their need while also reducing the burden on the environment?

In our school days it was the norm to pass on text books to younger children. These days in many schools books have to be bought as a package (good for the school and the publishers but a burden for many parents) and so there is no question of reuse. I tried to offer my son's books on Freecycle but there were very few who were interested and only once I managed to give them to be reused. They ended up with the raddiwala on all other occasions. Another dimension to it is that the way children maintain their books (another related post on the load they carry which impacts the condition) it is a wonder that they last the whole year forget being used by others subsequently!

So going back to the question perhaps we need to look at some way give credit to producers who make things that last, which can be shared thereby reducing the raw material consumption as well as the load on the garbage dump. Otherwise the current Economics favors greater production and greater consumption alone ignoring the limits (remember the 'linear system in a finite world' statement Anne Leonard makes in Story of Stuff?). Alternately there should be a disincentive to those who consume and waste more. Until we citizens of this earth realize this and bring it into the systems in place there is no hope!

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