This is a community currency which operates in Japan, creating social structures to replace family and community units which broke down as people become more mobile. A simple illustration is that someone who has an elderly parent in another part of the country can look after an older person locally and then exchange the credits they earn for doing so for their parent’s care.
The first question, asked as soon as I tweeted the link, was â€œwould it work here?â€.
The conclusion from a brief and interesting exchange with @genzaichi and @priddy, was maybe, with lots of caveats too long to tweet, and at the very least only with strong networks of trust and possibly only on a hyperlocal level. Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on the subject claims that exchanges of help on the internet is not a valid use of the term. They are talking about face-to-face care, possibly backed up by technology. I wonder if that might change if the evidence for positive psychological results of online interaction builds, but that’s something for another day.
What I found most appealing was the idea that complementary exchange systems could suddenly make some of the most disadvantaged people, under current systems, rich again. Cashless trading systems like LETS are growing in popularity and I like those too, but I think this is slightly different: rather less about replacing services you can buy, rather creating a parallel system of kindness which complements paid-for (or cashlessly traded) services. Timebank is a high profile example of a site which helps match volunteer opportunities with volunteers, but without the credit element for the people putting in the work.
Let’s say we could record 12 hours a day that a carer spends. At the moment, carers are often financially disadvantaged because they have given up work and their allowances may not cover the costs of caring. They also often suffer from health issues like depression, not at all surprising when you consider the emotional and physical effects not only of care, which can be very hard, but also due to concern for the suffering of their family member or friend. Isolation and lack of opportunity to look after their own wellbeing ‐ which perhaps they don’t see it as a priority – might be another problem. The worst prospect is that the person they care for dies, leaving them alone and without recourse to their own carer.
Now, while the carer probably won’t ask for anything in return for caring, they do have a whole host of needs that they might take up if it was available to them, things like respite care, help with housework, shopping or cooking a good meal, someone to talk to, somebody to walk with. Their 12 hours a day would effectively make them rich in such a system, recognised and valued for something that currently is often neither.
Equally, there are plenty of people who give just one or two hours of their time just because they want to help others in a community they care for. The unemployed, rather than being judged as they were jobseeking, could offer a great deal into such a system, giving them opportunities to meet people and remind themselves that they still have something to offer even if they don’t have a job at the moment. The lonely retired would have a way of connecting with their neighbours in a way that doesn’t make them feel like they are asking for help, for example helping the kids next door with their reading or maths homework.
There is a huge amount of this kind of work going on anyway. The disconnect is in the idea of exchange, generally because people doing good things don’t normally shout about it and people don’t always think to ask for something in a society that is used to marketplaces. If you can’t afford it, you can’t have it; you should work harder. Kindness is rarely reported in the media and if it is, it is probably accompanied with shock that ‘this sort of thing’ can happen in ‘this day and age’ – if they’re really laying it on with some implication that the inflictor of kindness will get themselves sued or knifed.
In contrast, it is my experience that where the platform and agenda is built in particular ways, online communities run on a great deal of generosity and users are quick to create structures of support and recognition, and, importantly, spread awareness of the communities they are enthusiastic about. Many neighbourhoods retain the generosity and the inventiveness, but not necessarily the offline equivalent of something like Spread Firefox.
Such a system would have to be very simple and accessible, I’m thinking very simple ways to record time spent to exchange for credits, methods for community members to verify/recommend/acknowledge time, invites/connections of trusted friends and the marketplace of offered services. It might ideally be an extension of platforms where people are already, eg through Facebook and iPhone apps. (Digital mentoring could of course be one of the services offered). Virtually all the interactions would be real-world but an online dimension that is as easy as a game enables information, needs and feedback to be expressed, recorded and responded to in a way that doesn’t always happen in real life. In this case hyperlocal is best ‐ adding information and creating matches for people in existing communities that know each other, venturing into wider circles, or bringing circles together, only if and when trust is built.
It’s not the talkaboutlocal way to rebuild tools or reinvent wheels, but to ask questions and try to bring together experience and expertise. Do you know of existing web tools that could support such an idea if a neighbourhood or group wanted to try it, or could it work on existing platforms? Do you know of such schemes running that interested groups could learn from? Have I missed my chance to submit something to Sicamp?
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