Etsy is “your place to buy and sell all things handmade.” It’s a wildly successful startup that basically open sources the exchange of goods. I must admit I haven’t spent much time there, but I think it’s a good concept. Really, though, what’s been tickling my fancy is Umair Haque’s Manifesto for the Next Industrial Revolution. Umair is basically calling for a revolution in 21st century Capitalism. I won’t even begin to paraphrase his argument because it wouldn’t be fair to his brilliant writing. Suffice it to say that if you’re not following Umair, you’re seriously missing out on a brilliant new voice of our generation.
My take on this whole thing is that we’ve moved from a society which bartered and exchanged and, due to physical and technological limitations, forced us to socialize and interact with others, to a society where there’s very little need for interaction with others anymore. The concept of currency greatly facilitated things, surely, by defining a system of value. A dollar is worth a certain amount of food, or can be used to buy a certain amount of time from someone else. Most important, it’s fungible and allows for that value to easily be transported from one place to another. This has removed a lot of frictions in the economy, made capital more liquid, and facilitated technical innovation. Unfortunately, it’s also put way too much value in currency itself. It has now become more important to acquire currency than to cultivate relationships or share time with others. Most of the interactions we still do have with others are adversary in nature: transactions at the checkout counter, customer service for product repair, coworker politics to try and get the corner office. Is it any wonder our society has become so agressive with one another?
While I’m certainly not the most social individual, I was blown away when living in L.A. by the fact that I did not know my neighbors. I knew they were there and I recognized their cars. Garage doors would open in the morning and at night and cars would enter and exit. Whatever happened to the people? I told my wife a few days ago that this longing for interaction might explain why people cling to smoking, especially here in California. It affords them the ability to go out and share a smoke and a conversation. Has the price to pay for a nice conversation with a fellow human being become lung cancer?
The Great Recession may be inadvertently bringing about a great awakening. One out of ten American is now unemployed. One out of four Spaniard is too. This brings about, of course, a lot of suffering and anguish. It does too, however, bring about a lot of people with free time. Instead of focusing on the negatives of this forced time off, why not try and facilitate its use?
So I’ve been thinking about Umair’s manifesto in this context. While there’s no doubt all of these people are eager to get back to work, why not create a platform to organize all the world’s services? Perhaps you’re an out-of-work graphic designer who’d love to trade a couple of business card designs for an evening of babysitting and a nice romantic meal with your spouse? There are all kinds of services out there that, other than the acquired expertise, costs no more than just time and, perhaps, basic supplies: babysitting, massages & facials, house cleaning, cooking, gardening, moving, handyman jobs… The list goes on.
Why not create an open source service exchange with a new unit of value: the hour. If you’re not working, why not let your hour of graphic design equal one hour of babysitting. In an hour, an unemployed Chef could whip up a wonderful culinary meal. Why not exchange it against an hour of electrical work wiring up a new lamp in the living room? In short, why not provide the Etsy of services, allowing people to accumulate time units that they can redeem against other services. Certainly with a tight budget, there’s no way I’m going to go get a massage at a spa for $150. I still would love to get a massage, however, and would gladly trade for an hour of my expertise.
Why not? I understand the reluctance… Some will say that it is a much bigger investment to become a Java expert than an auto mechanic, but if the programmer and mechanic are both unemployed, what they both have to offer that doesn’t cost anything is time. Hence, this exchange would basically allow for people to buy and sell their time. Any additional supplies or goods necessary could be supplied by either the buyer or the seller. There you go: you’ve got a platform to organize the world’s services.
What do you think about this? Am I missing a huge piece that makes this idea completely unrealistic?