A few years ago, I was discussing the economic crisis of the West with a Greek friend. I suggested that, terrible as the situation was, there may be one or two unexpected benefits. People might be forced, out of financial necessity, to change the way they live. We could all become more careful about waste, re-using and recycling instead of chucking stuff away just for the sake of purchasing a new commodity or brand.

"I don't buy it." She retorted. "The only thing that will happen is that a load of poor people are going to get poorer, and even more crushed than they already are."

I think we were both right.

As well as an increase in poverty, in recent times we've seen a shift in the way that people view ostentation and wealth. Although there are plenty who still flash their cash, it has become less acceptable than it was, say, in the 80s. Thrift and frugality are buzzwords for our times, and everywhere you look there are platforms springing up to help us share - our goods, our knowledge, our space. Even supermodels are getting in on the act, with Lily Cole (backed by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales) currently trialling, where people offer help to each other via an online portal.

The name for this modern take on the age-old practice of helping each other out, is collaborative consumption, or the sharing economy. In Our Time of Gifts, I'm going to spend a year trying out the new platforms that have been set up, and will no doubt end up using a lot of the old methods, too. Each fortnight, I'll share the stories that spring up from these encounters.

Follow me to find out more.

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