Sometime during the summer before my first year of university, I attended one of those group campus tour. I think it may have been during some sort of orientation week. The guide, a second or third year student, walked us from building to building, pointing out what she thought we’d should know.

Here’s the student services building. Go here to pay your tuition and seek counselling for how much you just paid. Here’s the pub. Take advantage of the daily burger deal and get the chili fries. Here’s a good breakfast joint that also serves alcohol. It’s called 99 Chairs, named as such because it supposedly has 99 chairs (but no one ever bothered to confirm).

Heading into that first year of my post secondary education, I thought I was going to transfer over to commerce for my second year. From there, I’d continue on to become a certified accountant. As it turned out, I ended up majoring in my worst subject and my life would never be the same. And even though what I do today isn’t exactly related directly to what I studied, I don’t think my time at UBC was a waste of time and money. Those five years really shaped me into who I am today.

But I digress.

Leave an Umbrella, Take an Umbrella

Back on that campus tour, the guide provided all sorts of helpful “insider tips” and knowledge about how best to survive university life.

Want to take an afternoon nap? The bleachers above the pool are surprisingly comfortable. Between the warm, humid air and the sound of splashing water, you’d swear you were at a tropical resort if it weren’t for the chlorine. (And yes, I took many naps there.)

She also informed us that umbrellas were effectively a communal resource on campus. This was not an official rule, of course, but it was something that was generally understood by students. If you accidentally leave your umbrella behind in a lecture hall, you can assume that it has returned to the greater collective. It’s no longer yours. Conversely, if you spot an abandoned umbrella and you need one because it’s raining, go ahead and take it. Tuum est. It’s yours.

While I never did keep score, I think I broke even on this unofficial policy. I lost and/or forgot my fair share of umbrellas. I also found and/or claimed a good number of umbrellas. Fair is fair and it was a system that ultimately worked out for most of us. As far as I can tell anyway.

Efficient Use of Resources

I didn’t know about the term “sharing economy” at the time and I’m not entirely sure whether it even existed. Now that I look back, though, I can see how that unofficial lost/found umbrella policy almost acted as a precursor to what we now call the sharing economy.

And it’s everywhere. Depending on your circumstances, you don’t really need to own a car, because you can utilize car sharing services like car2go, Modo or Evo Car Share here in Vancouver. Don’t want to drive yourself? Many cities (but not Vancouver… yet) have Uber and Lyft. Looking for a place to stay while traveling? There are Airbnb and VRBO, among others.

People have resources that they’re not using all the time, so they decide to share these resources with other people who do need them. Why retain exclusive ownership of a set of tools (i.e., buy a set for yourself from Home Depot) when they’re probably going to be left unused in your garage the majority of the time? And if someone needs an umbrella and there happens to be one lying around on the floor of a lecture hall, seemingly forgotten or abandoned, maybe he/she should take it. Maybe.

The sharing economy expands to the gig economy in much the same way. That’s how we get platforms like Fiverr and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. While I don’t necessarily use those services, I got into freelancing partly because the gig economy exists. I write and edit (so you don’t have to).

Maybe those lost umbrellas aren’t really lost. Maybe they’re just waiting to be claimed by the next people who need them.