The paradox of Sharism, or how a cool idea will pay my mortgage

The key motivator of Social Media and the core spirit of Web 2.0 is a mind switch called Sharism. Sharism suggests a re-orientation of personal values. […] And it’s okay to seek financial rewards. But you will in every case get something just as substantial: Happiness.

This is Isaac Mao in the essay Sharism: A Mind Revolution that he wrote for Joi Ito’s book Freesouls. While I like the music — I actually hum it myself every now an then — I find the lyrics hard to sing.

Don’t get me wrong: there are almost 2,000 of pieces of work that I am already sharing in this website, ranging from the simplest blog post to the latest version of a learning material, and including slides for presentations, articles, book chapters and so. Everything is (at this very moment) under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 license, which has not stopped third parties from asking for permission to create derivative works, which has always been granted too.

The reasons for behaving like that are the ones that Isaac Mao is depicting in his essay, and many more, including both my own philosophy regarding the nature of the outputs derived from public funding or the ethos of scientists and their role in society. But this behaviour, while fostered by ideologies, is actually been made possible because my time is already paid: partly by tax payers, partly by students enrolled in my (public) university (tax payers too, after all).

When I wake up in the morning, my mortgage is already being paid. With that in mind, I have plenty of room for putting ideologies into practice.

Isaac Mao speaks about the positive results of Sharism:

  • You get comments and feedback in general that enrich your work.
  • You get access to all the other stuff being shared.
  • Anything you share can be forwarded, circulated and republished, which implies you get recognition and (namely) social status.
  • What you do, if shared, has a meaning not only for you, but for the whole of society.
  • But you will in every case get something just as substantial: Happiness.

This works 100% for me. As a scholar, a (mostly) publicly-funded scholar, this works 100%, especially the happiness part. I mean it. Since I began to blog in 2003, I only got benefits from sharing. Sometimes even in cash.


I’ve done my homework (see below). I’ve read what I ought to. And still can’t I see how Sharism — or, closely related, a hacker ethic — can be applicable to the whole economy the way Mao’s portraying. Yes, we’ve got (some) examples in the free software community and (much less) examples in the open/free culture movement. But still, in a global economy where money comes from capturing the added value of an output (where “capturing” is a very broad term for a very complex set of practices, most of them related to restrained access to that output), Sharism will have hard times when it comes to paying a mortgage, which is paid in actual legal tender.

Web 2.0, the power of sharing

My university is inviting Isaac Mao to the V Meeting of associate institutions and businesses. The second part of the event is an open round table which I am chairing and that will be participated by Isaac Mao himself, Ricardo Galli, founder of the “Spanish Digg” (Menéame), and Alfons Sort, CEO of Adobe Systems Ibérica.

I will definitely bring all my questions on the table with the goal in mind to see whether we can shed some light on the many open topics that, in my opinion, Sharism still has to clarify.

Recommended readings

I previously said that I had done my homework. What follows is a brief collection of readings which I find very relevant for our discussion here. Enjoy.

Mao, I. (2008). “Sharism: A Mind Revolution”. In Ito, J.,
Freesouls, 115-118. Tokyo:
Raymond, E. S. (1999). The Cathedral & the Bazaar. (revised edition: original edition 1999). Sebastopol: O’Reilly.
Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Lessig, L. (2004). Free Culture. New York: The Penguin Press.
Levy, S. (1984). Hackers. Heroes of the computer revolution. Champaign: Project Gutenberg.
Himanen, P. (2003). L’ètica hacker i l’esperit de l’era de la informació. Barcelona: Editorial UOC.
Berners-Lee, T. (2000). Weaving the Web. New York: HarperCollins.
Hafner, K. & Lyon, M. (1996). Where Wizards Stay up Late: The Origins of the Internet. New York: Touchstone.


If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2011) “The paradox of Sharism, or how a cool idea will pay my mortgage” In ICTlogy, #92, May 2011. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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3 Comments to “The paradox of Sharism, or how a cool idea will pay my mortgage” »

  1. Good point.

    I would like to try an answer: I think that content that you share will never pay the bills. But it will only be a channel to some other thing that will pay them.

    For instance, any of your articles in the blog, they will never generate any revenue. But if you offer together with them your time as a private consultant in these issues, then that will generate revenue. “Sharing” will be the way to the revenue.

  2. Rafael, that is a good principle and I know it works in some cases.

    The question is whether it scales, to what degree, under what circumstances…

    (do come to the event and let’s discuss it :)

  3. Pingback: La paradoja del Sharismo, o cómo una buena idea me pagará la hipoteca | otro blog más

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