Striving for Meaningful exchanges

I spotted an ad for some photographic equipment for sale on Craigslist this morning that had the following post-scriptum:

I have to make rent and times are tough. So make an offer.

And this morning in my taxi, next to the “No Check” sticker, a yellow sticker woud read:

I am Self Employed Independent Contractor. I’d appreciate your repeat business.

One way to look at this is that it is a form of “Authentic Marketing” but I prefer to describe it simply as adding meaning to transactions, in the above cases: helping someone possibly unemployed, or rewarding someone who is contributing via its small business to a wider diversity.

These are examples that while exchanges are fundamental for mutual wealth, exchanges aren’t just about money. Exchanges preceded money, and even when first monies appeared, it was not uncommon for multiple of them to exist concurrently, each with its distinct role, or meaning. Money as we know it today (standardized, government issued) has had a huge objectifying influence on our subjective values, an effect that authors like Georg Simmel have described as completely objectifying and alienating. Others, more recent, authors like Viviana Zelizer in her book The Social Meaning of Money argue that subjective values have had a largely underestimated influence on our money as well, with people relying on a variety of techniques to give back social meaning to the colorless government-issued money, such as using different jars in their household for different uses. To Zelizer, under the surface of a single fungible government-issued currency, people use what amounts to a myriad of different currencies: they all flow differently even though they are all denominated in dollars.

In other words, old habits die hard and humans strive for meaning in everything they do, something the game designers try to satisfy as much as possible in their alternative worlds. As people look to compensate for less transactions with more meaning per transaction, we ought to see a wide range of solutions that will help them do just that.

Without going to a different currency, one example based on the above could simply be for users to expose part of their identity (unemployed) to a trusted party in a way that guarantees buyers on Craigslist that their money indeed goes to a person who is unemployed, and not someone deceiving to get an unfair advantage. That trusted party does not need to be an institution, but simply a social network.

If we think in terms of a new currency, one thing to keep in mind is that while money is a very powerful leverage tool, it is not what will drive people to exchange. A currency does not enable exchanges, it facilitates them, and one way it can facilitate them is by having built-in meaning.

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