It’s not buying and selling but an exchange of dreams…

…further evidence of the rise of the sharing society

Like most people I grew up with a distorted view of money. Yes, I knew we needed it, but I also thought that wanting it was bad. Unlike most people I didn’t misquote the apostle Paul: I never said money is the root of evil, always quoted the love of money is the root of all evil; until recently.

I always argued that money is just a tool, neither good nor bad, just a thing to be used. Of course that was completely naïve. Money has such a central place in our world that we grow up with both an emotional and a spiritual attachment to money — the idea and the word. As an experiment, just think of the word, money. What do you feel? What thoughts crowd your head? Do you feel happy? Queasy? Uncomfortable? Anxious? Are you thinking ‘I wish I was rich’?

A large part of the everyday bombardment that we encounter from just about everywhere is about the getting of money — training, get-rich-schemes, books, financial advice — quite apart from the very real struggle that millions of us face as a way of life. I live in Africa and I get desperation messages every week. So how could I be so simple-headed to believe that money is just a tool? Well, because that’s part of our socialisation. I grew up with that idea. The very rich generally don’t want the rest of us to be rich, they want us to be oblivious consumers. I was a great consumer. It’s the old Roman bread and circuses trick.

But recently a new technology has arisen and is shaking some entrenched foundations. The emergence of blockchain is exciting both the haves and the have-littles, although in very different ways. Here’s how WhatIs defines it:

Blockchain is a type of distributed ledger that stores a permanent and tamper-proof record of transaction data. Distributed ledgers can be thought of as a type of database, but unlike traditional databases, distributed ledgers are managed through a peer-to-peer (P2P) architecture and do not have a centralized data store. Blockchains are most commonly associated with cryptocurrency — and Bitcoin in particular.

Ah, Bitcoin. Yes, that’s where most of the excitement currently is. Bitcoin can make you rich. Consumers love the idea; the IMF says it’s only for drug dealers and terrorists.

But what’s important in this definition isn’t Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is just an example. What is important is P2P, peer-to-peer. Peer-to-peer is what brought the Napster revolution and is the idea behind Bitcoin.

Do you remember playing Monopoly? When you start, it’s really fun, isn’t it? Buying things? Acquiring property? Then, wow, when the other players start paying you for landing on your property. But then comes the power struggle which ends with a monopoly. And that’s the end of the game.

Money is designed to flow and at the start of the game it does. But when a monopoly arises it doesn’t flow anymore. In our real world we can all see places where the flow is blocked. That’s why so many commentators are saying that capitalism — a system that has been around for quite some time now — is now past its sell-by date.

The other day I was at an informal market-gathering. There weren’t so many people there, but the market-gathering was a start-up idea so it was OK. The attendance will grow. I was talking to two interesting people: one an artist, and the other a coffee seller. We were talking about art, about African masks and art deco and Picasso. And then the magic happened. There weren’t too many customers for either the coffee or the art, so the artist and the coffee man struck a deal. The coffee man chose one of the artist’s pieces and paid for it with a bag of coffee. This is peer-to-peer in action. And this is why Bitcoin is making so many people excited. Bitcoin is peer-to-peer money.

The notion of peer-to-peer is what released me from my hang-ups about money. I realised that it’s not about buying and selling but about exchanging dreams. The coffee seller gets excited when talking about the growing and blending of his coffee — that’s his dream; the artist gets excited when talking about his art pieces, how he creates them and what inspired them — that’s his dream. When they traded with each other it was literally an exchange of dreams.

In the same way, if I wanted to buy a guitar from one of my musician friends and he wanted to sell me one (he does in fact have one to sell right now), it would be because I have always dreamed of owning that guitar and he wants some cash to buy the new guitar that he is dreaming of now. It might not be good to want money, but it sure feels good to achieve our dreams.