Think about all the things you can DO with money
All of us spend it. Some people borrow it from other people who lend it. We have tools to track money, we can accumulate it, analyze it, ot think about it later. We can earn money, we can separate money into different accounts. We can use money to help entire countries, entire industries, or entire populations. We can give money away or keep it for ourselves. The things we can DO with money are infinite. And we have built an infinite number of systems to accommodate our infinite number of actions. These systems are made up of institutions, objects, networks, and people. Some of these systems are visible. Most are increasingly invisible.
The entire world has spent a good part of the past 4 years talking about these systems. We have uncovered why they don’t work, can’t work, or aren’t working the way the should work. We have proposed and argued about ways that they need to work better. Regardless of where we stand, it should go without saying that our money and the systems that support it have become really really complex.
Yet, despite it’s massive and looming complexity, money doesn’t leave anyone out. Even the people that don’t have it, can’t understand or access it, can’t live without it.
The number of people who interact with money is far greater than the number of people who interact with Facebook. And that is power. And I’m talking about the interaction… not the money.
For something with so many users, why aren’t we putting more effort and focus into how we interact with and experience money?
Could it be that it is because we are too focused on what money DOES rather than what money IS? Anthropologist Keith Hart said, “Money is a means of social interaction.” Money is a way to participate. A way to engage with all the things - large and small - that matter to us.
Our focus on what money already does, has only highlighted it’s shortcomings. But by renewing our focus on what money inherently IS - we come to understand what it can enable. Think about the other participatory objects, products and systems: These systems enable sharing, chatting, giving, inviting, messaging, friending, connecting, experiencing, even trusting people you don’t know and have never met.
However, when I asked 80 college students to talk about their experience with money, this is how they described it: private, selfish, anxiety inducing, out of control, elusive, unpredictable, overwhelming, not-emotional, impersonal, invisible, confusing, and a lot of work.
There were only 2 areas where they talked positively about their experience with money
- Saving not only gave them more money to buy and do the things they wanted to do but also gave a sense of confidence, pride, and stability.
- Most find great joy and satisfaction in giving money, however small, to a friend in need.
While their negative experience was based on “the system” taking money from them (in form of interest, loan payments, and purchases), each aspect of their positive experience with money focused on giving within a highly personal context. First, giving to themselves and then giving to others. Saving built a sense of individual competence and autonomy, while helping others tapped into this generation’s overwhelming desire to be generous and share.
These positive actions and behaviors around money drilled straight to the heart of what money IS and the positive things it enables. Money is a way to participate. Money is a means of social interaction. Money enables relationships and exchanges. Our complex systems and institutions have turned our experience of money into a highly private and personal pursuit that is tied to an object or coin. We have forgotten that money, at it’s heart, is NOT a common object, but rather a common unit of value that is intended to be shared and passed between people. This is what money DOES best - and it should come as no surprise that some of our most delightful experiences with money are still built from this original foundation.
Shabash stops thinking about money as a financial resource and starts thinking about it as a series of exchanges and social interactions that help you participate in the world in ways that are meaningful.
How do we DO this?
- Through saving rather than spending or borrowing.
- Put money back into a social context
- Focus on the transferrable and sharable qualities inherent to money
- Leverage the fact that for the first time in history, our social capital and financial capital exist in the same space - on our mobile phones.