Whuffie is a currency earned by doing good deeds, or getting good will, in Cory Doctorow‘s book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. His characters would acquire food and shelter with whuffie just like they acquired it for making an awesome post on social media, or for letting others cut in front of them in line. His book came out a decade ago, and as often happens with SciFi, this vision of the future is coming true today.
A little while ago we were able to donate money to online campaigns through kickstarter, pledgemusic, indiegogo, or other crowdfunding sites. But today, we can tip people directly on reddit, google+, tumblr, youtube, etc. with digital money using changetip. Sometimes I tip a dollar, sometimes I tip fractions of a penny. I can give these digital tips to people IRL using digital vouchers that I print out from bctip. You should use digital tips as well because people who receive these social media tips from us can use them to buy real goods like groceries, diapers, shoes, computers, and anything else. Just like Whuffie, but the real deal.
The technology is here today, it’s brand new, but what happens when it catches on? What happens when the average person starts to think of each tweet, and each blog post, as a crowdfunding campaign? What happens when people realize that they can buy coffee and bagels, using the good vibes that they collect from posting cool things online? What will humanity do when we all collectively see that we can turn a kind of upvotes into physical needs or luxuries?
For the answer I turn to another book that I read a decade ago: The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond. This book was ahead of it’s time, it foresaw the rise of open source and the disruption that the open source model would have on the corporate way of building software. Another thing that stuck with me was his argument for the “gift economy”. He frequently had to address skeptics who said that nobody would write software for free, therefor open source was doomed. His retort was basically that the impact of open source would be so profound, so fundamental, that it would change our economy from one of scarcity to one of abundance. The book outlined historical precedents for “gift economies”, and a modern day gift economy wouldn’t be far dissimilar from Whuffie. Well, Mr. Raymond was right. Recently open source has started to change money itself. We have open sourced money, and the impact is going to be so profound, so fundamental that it will enable a “gift economy” as he foresaw. You may soon be able to make a living off of “gifts” on social media.
So now you roll your eyes and ask “Won’t people need real jobs to put food on the table? Not just doing ‘good deeds’ and collecting upvotes?” Smarter minds than I have thought about this exact question. Economist Jeremy Rifkin has foreseen not only the rise of, but also the necessity of, a “third sector” of the economy. In his book The End Of Work he analyzed the financial crisis of the early 90’s and he realized that the unemployment problem won’t be fixed within our traditional definition jobs, but that we would need to expand the definition of work to include volunteer activities that are rewarded by the community. Mr. Rifkin had theorized that communities would pay people for such work outside of the monetary system with free housing free food etc. He was so close. Here we are a decade later and online communities can pay people outside of the monetary system with bitcoin.
These big ideas from the turn of the century (whuffie, gift economies, open source everything, and third sector jobs) are all arriving at our doorsteps today and they are being built on top of a technology called bitcoin. Bitcoin is basically open sourced money. It allows micropayments, and easy transfer of value that could never be possible with credit cards. Services built on bitcoin are creating the dreams of technological progress that I read about a decade ago. This is indeed a very interesting time.
Yet, as interesting as the potentials are, this day has not yet come to pass. Why not? Earlier I asked what will happen when the collective social consciousness realizes that they can live off of good vibes from the internet?The world is primed for this, because the idea is not new. Imagine now, if you will, what happens when the final match goes off to ignite the imagination of the world. Malcolm Gladwell pointed out that change builds slowly then happens fast, this is called a tipping point. Nassim Taleb pointed out that big changes often seem so unlikely and appear to come out of left field, these are called black swan events. Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the calm before the storm. We approach the tipping point of a black swan event. We see before us the iceberg of an unpredictable change that will take the world by storm. We stand poised to be a part of the next revolution.
I will be posting a lot more about bitcoin here in this blog. In the meantime I will give you a homework assignment. Buy $5 worth of bitcoin today, find a whuffie-style service (such as changetip), and do your part to build the future. You’re welcome to tip me for bringing this article to you. My bitcoin address is 19GxLMx2rzfFD2xRX89a1jiqHhLMRLWTFN and giving me whuffie is as easy as copy –> paste –> send. But don’t stop there, tip your friends with bitcoin, especially those who do not have bitcoin yet. Leave a bitcoin voucher as an extra tip for exceptional waiters. Be the change that you want to see in the world. Be bitcoin!