Creating A Pay It Forward Economy


Rachel Hatch, research director for the Ten-Year Forecast program, asks the question: what would it take for quirky, pay-it-forward prototypes to go from novelties to tools so commonplace that they function as the infrastructure for a new currency?

According to Hatch, three three things that are happening right now will play a big role in making kindness an actual currency:

 1) Stories of kindness are becoming more compelling, and mobile social tools for tracking them are becoming increasingly inexpensive, lightweight, wearable, and shareable. For example, consider Socialcoin, a web-connected currency that can be passed from hand to hand to track acts of kindness. As discrete acts of kindness leave digital trails, we will start to use visualization tools to track complex chains of network behavior.

2) Social contagion research shows that kindness is subject to network effects. In 2010, Christakis and Fowler provided the first laboratory evidence that cooperative behavior and acts of kindness are contagious and spread from person to person in a social network.

3) And decision science from a 2013 UC Berkeley/UC San Diego study found that customers actually pay more when given an option to pay-it-forward rather than paying what they think something is worth.

As this future starts to manifest, Hatch predicts that new tools will arise:

Kindness as a Reputation Metric: Just as we measure social reach today, we might measure kindness reach tomorrow. We might expect the Klout of 2024 to include a kindness score. Kindness to become a new measure of citizenship or even kindness metrics might even appear on job-seekers’ resumes. But what if kindness becomes a form of competition? Is it even altruism if it’s tracked?

Kindness Profiling: Acts of kindness may well become traceable and tradeable. The increased visibility that amplifies a culture of kindness could well be turned into a foundation for yet more profiling, with advertisers and political parties alike using big data to identify target nodes on kindness networks.

Monetization of Kindness: Because pay-it-forward systems will exist alongside our existing competitive monetary systems, kindness transactions may well be absorbed into the familiar balance sheet and turned into commodities, or even a kindness debt.

One can only imagine the impact such a currency would have on the world. I can’t see any downside and it would surely make the world a better place for everyone. Maybe as our current system repeatedly fails, we should think about replacing it with a system like Hatch is proposing.

Via The Institute For The Future Photo by Matre