Flying Sand

A real ‘sharing economy’ – not Airbnb and Uber – is the remedy for a city that has lost its way

The so-called sharing economy is, at its core, a fraud. Take a trip to your nearest public library for a taste of the real thing and a reminder of what Hong Kong direly needs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 September, 2017, 2:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 September, 2017, 10:05pm

I think it would be fair to say – without fear of contradiction – that Hong Kong is a confused, messed up and pretty unhappy place these days.

If our shared metropolis were a dear friend you bumped into after not seeing them for a while, their well-being would almost certainly cause you concern. Their mood and deportment would prey on your mind and might even lead you to suggest therapy of some kind.

Political strife, generational division and financial uncertainty consume the public discourse, and that’s just at home. The wider horizons, even if we fail to see them due to domestic navel-gazing, present us with what appears to be the choice of a slow death by climate calamity or a quick and nasty nuclear nightmare.

Ocean Park closes Halloween attraction after man found dead inside haunted house

And just when you thought the constant stream of signals that all was not well couldn’t get any more depressing, up pops the bizarrely macabre news that an all too real corpse has been discovered in the haunted house “attraction” at the Ocean Park theme park.

Straight out of the “you couldn’t make it up” box of stories, it was – as metaphors go for a city that has lost its way, is increasingly possessed by the ghosts of its past and fearful of what lies ahead – as stark, and dark, as they come.

But all is not lost. Could it be that a dying attraction of a very different kind is the tiny light at the end of the tunnel?

At first glance, recent criticism of the government by the Ombudsman, Connie Lau Yin-hing, over the ludicrous fact that officials have been spending wads of our hard-earned money on hundreds of thousands of books and other reading materials for public libraries and then dumping them in our jam-packed landfills, seems yet another reason to reach for the nearest bottle of mind-numbing liquid.

Hundreds of thousands of books in Hong Kong thrown away as libraries slammed for ‘wasteful practice’

But the Ombudsman’s intervention has sparked a debate about the provision and availability of a public resource which I believe goes to the very heart of many of the problems Hong Kong and the rest of the world face today.

And it all centres on the theft and misuse of a simple word, the meaning of which is embodied in the public library. Sharing.

The so-called “sharing economy” is, at its core, a fraud.

The Uber driver who picks you up and drops you off in his taxi – for that is what it is – only does so because he or she expects to be paid. Sharing is the furthest thing from his mind, and that of the dysfunctional board of directors who at the first whiff of rules and regulations lose the plot.

Another “sharing economy” icon, Airbnb, is guilty of word theft too. You can only jet off to Brazil or Belgium to stay in someone else’s house if you pay the person who owns the house. This is not “sharing”, it’s a concept as old as the hills called bed and breakfast, the only differences being that you book it through the internet, there are few, if any, rules, and Airbnb makes a buck.

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Public libraries, on the other hand, where you borrow a book we all pay towards providing, read it then give it back so someone else can do exactly the same, without a thin dime changing hands – now that’s sharing.

Shared space, shared material, shared silence and a sharing community. Call me naive, but this is exactly what our tortured city is crying out for.