Alessandro Ludovico on Tue, 21 Sep 2004 17:04:46 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Free online exchange, death threat to consumerism.

originally published in:

Free online exchange, death threat to consumerism.

Alessandro Ludovico

One of the most utopic aim is the definitive defeating of the consumerism 
model. This is really a scaring perspetive for any big-size business based 
on how economic actually works. But there are some new and efficient 
efforts starting to develop alternative practices that network people 
together, letting them share needs, goods and time. It's an almost 
spontaneous reacting to the pyramidal scheme of production > marketing > 
consume > waste that sound very promising for a better future.

The first, and probably most precious resource that is possible to share 
is time, so a quite successfull effort is the the exchange of free time. 
In Italy this practice, mediated by public institutions is called 'La 
Banca del Tempo (the Bank of Time)'. You donate one hour of your time 
doing something useful for somebody else (teach a foreign language, paint 
a wall, etc.) and you'll receive something by someone else who'll spend 
one hour too (cooking a cake for you, fixing your bike, etc). You'd even 
ask for something specific. It works on on a 'points' based system: you 
get points everytime you do something, and your points amount let you 
request acts or things offered by others. It's an invisible network that 
makes time free from a quantified economic value, testing a different type 
of economics. There are voluntary based organization in USA and Europe 
that just support this exchange preventing it from abuse. The free 
exchange of goods got also some hardcore net savvy supporters. Why trash 
things in the wasting cycle?

The Worldwide Freecycle Network [] is a net that 
founds on two principles: exchange things for free and do it locally. It 
is built around mailing lists where people tell about objects they want to 
give or would like to have. It's a surplus sharing, self-organized and 
spontaneous, and it's working fine in many U.S. cities and abroad 
(Singapore, Tokyo, Sheffield, Vancouver, Melbourne, Adelaide, London, 
Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, now). On the high-tech side the Italian 
Hacklabs (the nation scattered and squatted hacker laboratories) had 
always organized some hardware exchange, trading used and old pieces of 
computer hardware, often bringing back to life what is the symbol of 
obsolete technology. Restricting the field to books and cds Swappingtons 
[] is a community site, that uses the same 'points' 
mechanism, awarding people who give this kind of stuff to others. You give 
a book/cd and then receive some points, that let you ask a cd or another 
book for the same amout of points. More spontaneous and fate-related is 
the BookCrossing practice [] whose aim is to 
establish a free and ubiquitous worldwide library. It consists in 
'releasing' a book you want tho share with anybody else in public places, 
telling people where to get it. Labelling books with their ID system let 
people find titles and to know comments by other readers (by email sent to 
the ID owner) who pick up and then release again your book. There are even 
some business based on network of communities that want to share, not just 
to buy/sell/trash. Think at Ebay. Scrolling its listings anybody'd find 
lots of goods that are almost free, but sold at symbolic prices. And 
similary to Swappingtons, but more focused on borrowing stuff is of the 
most recent web business of this kind: MediaChest 
[], an online infrastructure that let you share 
your personal collection of books, cds, dvds and games. It's a sort of 
friend-of-a-friend (FoF) network for the borrowing of goods, a system to 
keep in touch with unknown people through the same interest in some kind 
of cultural stuff. All these efforts draw a possible reshaping of the 
consumer society in something new, that recycles, share and donate. This 
is one the most appealing starts for a different economics, aimed at 
connecting people, letting them share personal properties (including some 
time of their life) and stating a death threat to the broadcasted consumer 


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