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economics of abundance
August 4, 2007, 9:21 am
Filed under: Digital Strategy

gifts.jpg

None of the authors and editors of The Age of Conversation receive any material reward from sales.

And yet, only two weeks in and we have sold around 680 books with almost $5,500 raised for Variety, the Children’s Charity.  The energy surrounding the launch of the book has flourished into innumerable activations that don’t look like slowing down anytime soon. Check out the latest press and updates here.

It brings to mind the concept of “gift economies” that I’ve recently been introduced to through a discussion I’ve been having with Matt about the use of Flickr photos in a recent Virgin Mobile campaign.

 Wikipedia, itself a thriving gift economy, says this about it’s most vibrant currency, which can also be manifest in the photos on Flickr or content available through Creative Commons:

Information is particularly suited to gift economics, as information can be copied and transmitted at practically no cost. It can be treated as a nonrival good: when you share information, you do not deprive yourself of the information (although you may deprive yourself of certain revenues that could be gained in the market economy from the intellectual property rights).

Traditional scientific research is an information gift economy. Scientists produce research papers and give them away through journals and conferences. Other scientists freely refer to such papers. The more citations a scientist has, the more prestige and respect he or she has, which can attract funding and positions. All scientists therefore benefit from the increased pool of knowledge.

 Gift cultures are adaptations not to scarcity but to abundance.  In gift cultures, social status is determined not by what you control but by what you give away.

This brings to life Jason Oke’s recent point about cooperation: it  isn’t just the driving force behind the web, it’s also the driving force behind evolution.

He points to an  article in the NY Times by Martin Nowak, a professor at Harvard who studies cooperation:

“Cooperation is one of the three basic principles of evolution…cooperation is essential for life to evolve to a new level of organization…Humans had to cooperate for complex societies to emerge.
We see this principle everywhere in evolution where interesting things are happening.”

Nice. I think what’s happening is pretty interesting too.


10 Comments so far
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Hey Katie – thanks for the nod (thereby contributing to the gift economy… hey, you proved your point!). And great post, as always. Keep ’em coming.

Comment by Jason Oke

Hey Katie,

Interesting when considering the interaction between gift economies and memes. The idea of ideas/entities that get “copied” and re-transmitted…

I never tied scientific journal work to gift economies before. Brilliant.

Comment by Sean Howard

@Jason- thanks for coming by, and also for supporting the Age of Conversation.

@Sean I though about your comment for a while, it’s a great thought starter.

For me a meme is a self replicating idea that can be almost parasitic in its ability to propagate itself into a culture.
So perhaps, in this instance, a meme might be merely the imitation of an idea (copying behavior) while a gift economy is more of a meme complex (a group of mutually supporting ideas).
Subcultures that develop as a result of a belief system (like hacking subculture) are meme complex (memeplex).
I believe that blogging is rapidly emerging into a very vibrant and quite well defined subculture. The memeplex that allows this dynamism are the self supporting ideas of openness, sharing, respect, annotation, community and, hopefully, a good sense of fun.

I think the difference between memes and gift economies might be between the story that is told around the campfire…and the campfire itself.
One has value for five minutes (perhaps over and over again) but the other is built to allow those stories to be shared.

Comment by katiechatfield

Very, very interesting distinctions.

And I love the term “memeplex”!!

I love the idea of a belief system and subculture. While I get the idea of parasitic behavior, I actually wonder if this isn’t a bit of a leap.

So often we view viral as a contagion. Something we have to be careful who we come into contact with lest it transmit. But as someone with strong ideas and beliefs, I’m amazed just how resilient some people are to NOT be infected with my “disease”.

One could argue the host is not a match. But I think it’s more than that. Unless we are arguing that people chose to be a host match to an epidemic because they desired some subculture trait…

Not sure if this makes sense or is even a good hypothesis. 😉 For example, I’m amazed at how I end up copying and personally replicating the ideas of those I like AND dislike, because they share a subculture with me that I use to help define my uniqueness. Bill Gates, anyone????

I’m actively choosing (though not always consciously) to become affected. And I’m literally wandering around BEGGING the subculture to infect me with something I find relevant and suitable to my beliefs…

Okay. I just rambled out 3 pages (beyond this) of soapbox rant style garbage into a new entry in typepad… I think I sense a post coming!! Woot! 😉

Comment by Sean Howard

P.S. LOL. You actually put up the award. AWESOME!! 😉😉

Comment by Sean Howard

@Sean- but of course! I take much pride in being out and proud about being crap.

Comment by katiechatfield

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