Monday, June 15, 2015

Stored Potential

A great survival technique is to re-remember. Always look on the bright side of life. If stuff hasn't quite gone your way, change the story. Life is a like a play. We all have different seats and are concentrating on different things on the stage. We can't look at everything and no one else can see what we can see. But no worries. Our minds are very good at filling in the gaps based on past experiences and what we want to see. Magicians, marketers and politicians depend on this fact. We build stories that let us make our way through the world.

One of those stories is our own identity. One of the greatest incentives there is, is a sense of autonomy. That we hold our identity and our destiny in our own hands. That we know a single few things better than other people do. It is why managers think we are going to be better than random at hiring someone after an interview. It is why judges think they are better than average a telling if someone is lying. It is why Gamblers think they can go on 'hot runs' in casinos when the odds mean they are still paying the casino for entertainment. Pilots and Doctors don't like it that checklists can do a better  job than they can at remembering to do the important things. We like stories that give us control.

The idea of 'from each according to ability, to each according to need' appeals strongly to our inner kind hearted activist. What grates, in my view, is if this is not a choice. Historically when systems like this have been put in place, a lot gets lost between the generation and the distribution. Incentives also become a problem because of a loss of autonomy. So we have moved more towards liberal states where more and more power is in our own hands. We don't trust giving people power over us, so we have more control. The irony is that sometimes this means we end up taking less control than we actually have. We don't, for example, need to wait for Governments to decide to sort out some of the big problems in the world. If you believe in redistribution, you don't need Government to raise taxes and do it. You can do it yourself.

The Gift Economy fascinates me. I find it strange how difficult we find it to accept help or gifts. We like an exchange. An exchange lets you feel like there is order in the world. You don't owe anybody anything. Friends tell me they prefer paying for a babysitter. If they are running late, paying a little extra makes things better. If the babysitting is free, they feel obligated to get back on time. Weddings where the couple tell you 'no gifts please, your presence is enough' leave a slightly awkward feeling. Arriving empty handed doesn't feel right. On a night out, letting someone pay for your meal or drinks feels like there is a power exchange going on. To just say 'Thank you' when someone offers help can feel very humbling.

Money isn't actually a thing. It helps us communicate that stuff has been done and creates a link that allows more stuff to get done. Money is smarter than barter. The two people exchanging don't need to need what the other is offering. They just need to want something, and have something. Supply and Demand. The Gift Economy gets more interesting. It isn't one-to-one communication. It requires a community. It requires time. The Internet and Social Media have revolutionised communication. I am really excited about what e-money may mean, because I think there is the possibility that it can re-personalise money. All money is, is a store of potential. Gaining a skill is also accumulating potential. Education is our biggest asset. Some clever people are going to figure out a way to let us communicate and coordinate our potential better. Physical money needs a catalyst. That catalyst is spending. The catalyst in a Gift economy is someone giving. It is easier to give if you know what people need, care about them and have time.

The best gifts I have received in my life have been ones where I have realised the person is paying attention. They have noticed a passing comment, or interest, and this thought has translated into something. The gift is more a reminder that I mattered enough to them to have received that time. 

Rich or poor, We all get 24 hours in a day. The gift of a slice of time is priceless.

Image: Jana Craft
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