accidental discovery of gift economy currency

Here is my friend Joe writing about experiences this week with our gift circle and the possible discovery of a gift currency…

“well, this past tuesday was our first try at the “gift circle telephone” facilitation idea i wrote about last week. this is the one where you whisper a need or a gift into someone’s ear, and if they can’t meet that need or don’t need that gift, then they pass-on what they heard into the next person’s ear. this goes around until someone actually can respond to that need or gift, at which time that person will make a mental note of it and then pass along their own need or gift to the next person. this continues until the same need or gift travels around the circle more than once. then that round stops, responders recite what they heard (everyone laughs) and then someone who hasn’t yet voiced their own gift or need starts off the next round.

i’d say it went great. others thought it lacked efficiency. but all would agree that we had a good time. those who thought it lacked efficiency generally noted that having to pass what they heard form one person along to the next person didn’t accomplish anything for themselves: they could meet nether their own needs nor anyone else’s. but i pointed out that, during the course of each round (which took about ten minutes, due to hilarious misconstruations), a good number of gifts and needs were actually met. i also pointed out that the general facilitation method which we normally use has inefficiencies of its own (like the side conversations of individuals and the tangential discussions of the group). in addition, even in situations where every need and gift is expressed, not all of them receive a response.

we did two rounds of the gift circle telephone, had tons of laughs, and then finished the evening with a standard facilitation, in order to voice any unexpressed gifts or needs. the combination of the two facilitation methods proved to work best of all, in my opinion. if i had to rate overall efficiency, i’d say that the old standard method had an edge… but then again, many of our needs and gifts had already been responded to by that time.

so, today alpha proposed that the telephone facilitation might work better if everyone wrote their needs and gifts on individual cards (one need or gift per card) and then passed THOSE around to the next person, instead of whispering in their ear. then he thought, “why not include your name and contact information and then start passing them around outside the gift circle too?”.

the next thing that came out of his mouth was “oh shit! this could be the new local currency!”.

i realized right away that he could actually be right. my own study of currency showed me that the two most important features of any currency are frequency of use and range/depth of circulation. the standard thinking is that money transactions are an efficient surrogate, to use in place of trade and barter. a kind of “go-between” to bridge the gap between things we offer and things we need.

but the concept of “passing the buck” along to someone else, who can respond to some gift or need better than we can, allows this new kind of currency the ability to bridge another gap entirely: the gap between those who express a need or gift and those who respond to it. i may not need or have what’s written on that original note, but i may know somebody who does. and even if that person doesn’t either, they can just as easily pass it along to someone else.
there aught to be no shame in passing this kind of “buck” along to someone else. there’s actually honor in it and the potential to help someone in your community get their needs met or their gifts given. sure, it’s also nice when we can be the ones to respond, but none of us can do it all. the only harm you could do would be to receive one of these notes and then throw it away or not do anything with it at all.

and here’s another interesting aspect abut a currency like this: it gets us thinking about the needs and gifts of other people in our community. a kind of natural networking laxative. alpha has already given me the first of such currency notes. it’s a request for a voice recorder with a usb port. i’m going to pass that along to someone who i think may have that thing, with instructions written on the back, which read “please don’t throw me away! if you can’t respond to this note, just pass it on to someone else.”…
… and maybe you can all start doing this too? 🙂

ah, the power of the self-emergent design process!”


3 thoughts on “accidental discovery of gift economy currency

  1. I like the idea, a lot, but why oh why do you have to label it with the failed concept of ‘currency’?

    Currency is a medium for _control_ of exchange, reinforcing the absence of trust; the whole point of what you’re doing is to _create_ trust in the natural emergence – the almost exact antithesis.

    In short, the idea is great; calling it a ‘currency’ is – to my mind – a very dangerous idea indeed. Don’t do it! – find a different label instead, or the label itself will destroy what you’re aiming to do.

  2. Hi Tom,
    Thanks for your comment.
    My friend emailed me a dictionary definition of currency. It originally meant something that flows or circulates.

    If we use that definition of currency, then we are seeking a gift currency that flows or circulates.

  3. Great idea Alpha! That can be like the gift/needs posts there are in but on a real card and flowing around the community. Cool!

    The challenge is for those they dont like to show their names/contact details on a public way.

    Best regards,


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