Collaborative lifestyle

Computer ©Janet Allen
Our son at the Boston Computer Museum many years ago. The internet is the key to enabling collaboration

Besides collaborative consumption, which relates to sharing or renting our "stuff," a collaborative lifestyle deals with how we live apart from our stuff.

What's new in all this? People have always done favors or let friends or relatives sleep over in their homes. What's new is that, through the internet, this can be done on a much bigger scale and with people you don't know.

The internet is key to blending old and new solutions to a green, but good life.

Although a lot of these save money and/or material resources, a big part of their appeal is in creating community and meeting new people.

As with collaborative consumption, some of these things are just arrangements between people, but some are for-profit businesses mediating these contacts.

Some or most of these new ideas are probably best left for the younger crowd, although I can see their appeal and value. Even more important, though, is that they represent the kind of transformative ideas we need to create a sustainable, but satisfying life!

Growing food

Our garden ©Janet Allen
Some of our edible garden

Our Edible Garden is all the garden we need, but many people don't have the luxury of the space or maybe the inclination to have a similar garden.

Even though we aren't involved in community gardens, we're excited about their potential to raise good food for more people and to reconnect people with how food grows.

Community gardens or urban farms:This isn't really a new idea, but it seems like the idea has really taken off in the last few years, even to the point of having viable urban farms. Again, as with new peer-to-peer selling such as eBay, which is a business, not just "sharing," some of these are for-profit farms.

Matching gardeners with land:Some people have land but no interest in or time for gardening; some people want to garden, but have no land. An exciting new idea is to match these two groups. At the moment, we aren't in either of these categories, but when we're really elderly and unable to garden, I can picture using our own land in this way—in other words, contracting with someone to grow food on my land and splitting the resulting produce with them.


Sunflower project ©Janet Allen
We've counted bees for the Great Sunflower Project

I'm intrigued by what people can do together beyond what was ever possible before—again as a result of the internet.

One of the things we've done is to participate in a variety of citizen science projects, described in Our Habitat Garden. For the first time in history, there's the potential to collect massive amounts of data that hopefully will enable us to better conserve the natural world. (Of course, this is the first time in history that so much conservation is needed.)

Another thing I've done is to start doing a little editing in Wikipedia, and I hope to do more.

We've also participated in Kickstarter, giving us an opportunity to help create innovation, even if it's just vicariously. So far, we've helped fund the Meadowscaping video, the I, Party Cup documentary by Grist Magazine, and Organic Transit's ELF bicycle-car hybrid.

Another organization we've enjoyed participating in is Kiva, which provides microloans to people in countries all over the world, including the US. After investing an initial $600 or so, we've kept reinvesting it so that it has helped almost 60 people so far get a start in life. We have a good repayment rate since we choose loans backed by 4- or 5-star lenders (shown in the Kiva information). This type of "investment" is not for making money—breaking even is the best outcome, but we don't mind "losing" a little on this important investment.

Lots of other opportunities are out there for citizen journalists and so on.

Duolingo ©Janet Allen
Duolingo on the iPhone (also available on a website or on a tablet)

And like everyone else, we (involuntarily) participate in typing in "captchas." This used to be just annoying until we discovered the new version of the captcha—recaptcha—which has two sets of characters to type in: the first one, as always, just proves you're a human, but the second one is your contribution to converting scanned documents into characters. In other words, you "translate" into English words that the optical character recognition software can't interpret. I'm happy to contribute a few extra seconds to digitize books.

Another project by the same person who developed Recaptcha is Duolingo, which translates books and articles by trading with the user a chance to learn another language. It turns out that a large number of new language learners can together produce translations equal to (expensive) professional translators!

Duolingo is a FREE program (no advertising etc.) uses techniques employed by popular games (scores, earning "Lingots", competing with others, trumpet fanfares to celebrate the completion of levels etc.) to make it gamelike and downright addictive! Apple named it the "App of the Year" and Google Play named it "Best of the Best."

Best of all, though, it seems to be quite effective. We are learning Spanish using this program, and we're actually learning to speak Spanish. Janet had taken Spanish in high school, so this is dredging up some old learning, but in a new, more effective way. John had taken German, not Spanish, but he's learning, too, although at a slower pace. We haven't yet gotten to the translation stage, but when we're more proficient, we'll try our hand at translating real world articles.

Things I could picture doing myself

Here are some activities we haven't participated in, but if the situation were right, we would participate.

Community invention spaces

Bee photo ©Janet Allen
I like to improve my photography

All sorts of exciting things can be done with new devices such as 3D printers or other equipment, but much of this equipment can be expensive and take a lot of space. Why not get together and use this collaboratively?

This seems to be happening, at least in larger cities. If I were interested in inventing or using this kind of equipment, I can see that it would be an exciting thing to do.

One thing that might qualify in Syracuse is the Light Work Community Darkrooms, associated with Syracuse University. It provides facilities, equipment, and workshops for photographers. The classes are a bit expensive, but it would be a great way to improve my photography.

Neat things

One of the neatest things we've seen is the online choir, where people individually recorded their section of music and someone compiled them all into a choir. Although we aren't singers, I'm sure people will come up with all sorts of other happenings that use collaboration. I guess flash mobs would qualify, but I'm not sure I have any talent for that either.


It can be lonely being a freelancer, so some people have gotten together to create a coffee-shop atmosphere for their workspace.

Things I couldn't picture doing

Here are some of the things I either wouldn't feel comfortable doing or I just don't understand the appeal of.


Collaborative projects/businesses such as CouchSurfing or airBnB are increasingly popular. But it would be a big stretch to picture us staying in a stranger's home, but an even bigger stretch for us to share or rent our own home to a stranger.

Time services

I don't really get this, but I guess in some communities it's working. In this type of collaboration, people provide a certain service for a certain number of hours and "bank" these hours, then they can "spend" them by contracting with someone else to work for the same number of hours doing something for them. In other words, an economic exchange built on time rather than money.

What I don't understand, though, is why you'd want to use perhaps two hours worth, for example, of highly specialized skills that you've earned to pay for someone, perhaps, to insulate your cellar. How do you know how good a job that person might do? Do they have any particular skills in that area or is it something that they figure can be just done by stuffing some fiberglass batting around?

Maybe there's something I don't understand about this, but it won't be one of the first kinds of collaboration we try. Using money as a proxy for time seems in many ways to be just more efficient and effective. Of course, for people with few options for earning money, this is a good solution to getting and providing needed services.


I guess I feel the same way about bartering as I do about trading time services. Isn't money a more efficient and effective way to accomplish the same thing?

However, if someone actually doesn't have enough money to get what they need—and this may be true in today's world where even well-qualified people can't find jobs—perhaps this is a viable solution.