Scenario Planning - 27 Sep 2010
Exit money and body
We’ve started to let go of our rigid notion of currency as purely bank notes and our bodies as strictly physical. What scenarios are being created ?
Me and my virtual self
We are increasingly living in a space of flows, where networking has taken on a virtual character. I myself am part of three social / business networks, or is it four, well actually five. I find them important and I do sometimes feel guilty about not giving them the prompt personal attention that they deserve. I could spend half a day maintaining my virtual self, so I too frequently put it off. Are virtual contacts worth less than physical contacts? Can you even put it in those terms? A contact is a contact; it’s only the platform and frequency that has changed.
I need a Virtual Personal Assistant (VPA). Someone who can administer and maintain my virtual networks, answer social messages and update my blogs with wit and images. Someone like a secretary of the last century who gives me a smile and a coffee and goes off into the virtual sea of networking to flag down the ships and contacts of information that I find valuable. Someone I can trust, how much of myself should I turn over, could I even learn from virtual self? Will my VPA know what’s better for me? And could I even have virtual representatives (VR’s) of myself that go out into the physical world to meet my virtual friends who, virtually speaking, don’t know me physically. It would be the physical manifestation of the cut and paste function. My network profile would be managed by my hired VPR who answers emails, posts blogs and goes to meetings, of which my VR would be meeting with another VR representing someone else.
Could trusted agencies of VA’s and VPA’s develop from this new communication model? Is there something ethically wrong about this? In a way I am my own brand, and my VPA and VR are my brand champions and that makes me a brand manager. I think for our generation this will remain controversial. But the generation coming up and their kids will be honoured if they could come as far as meeting a level three VR, that could be one brand champion before the brand him or herself. It could be like in the medieval days, you can’t just meet the king outright, you’d have to lobby and build up prestige in the courts and salons. Instead, today’s society is a space of digital flows: a phantasmagoria of collage identities, temporary and fluid into our own de-traditionalized personal culture.
Something phenomenal is happening right now for humans, we’re uploading our brains. And I reckon, that long after our physical deaths our digital consciousness will live on and delegate tasks to the living. The rise of the avatar could change our ideas about what it means to be human. We might consider adding a new chapter in our life cycle: youth, teenager, adult, senior and avatar. And just like our physical identities evolve with new experience so will our digital selves. What’s interesting is the cross-pollination of an online character’s reflection of their offline persona. An avatar built on information about you gathered from across the web might evolve in a completely different way to one that you might make yourself, especially over time and after your physical death. (1) We’re letting go of our bodies and living forever in the digital form simply transplants our consciousness from flesh running on food and water to and electronic chip wired on silicon and electricity. Along side my social network profiles this Christmas I look forward to creating my first Microsoft XBox Natal identity. The world of online gaming is now without handheld controllers and completely in real-time with other avatars and rendered in real places with real-time weather.
Banks versus unbanks
At the same time, money as an abstract exchange unit based on the good faith of a government is slowly, but surely being replaced by digital credits.
There have been many financial hardships over time causing us to be thrifty, frugal and cooperative. The difference now is that the planet has an unprecedented amount of cheap information technology, namely the Internet and mobile phones. The surprisingly a vast amount of Internet and mobile activity is in Africa and Asia. 75 percent of the Internet is not in English and 70 percent of Facebook users are outside the USA. Since 2005, the rise of emerging markets propelled mobile phones on the African continent to create mobile financial applications known as M-Money or M-banking generating 10-11 percent of GDP in Kenya and South Africa. (2) The systems usually involve a set of applications that facilitate a variety of financial transactions via mobile phone, including transmitting airtime, paying bills and transferring money between individuals. Time is money, and imagine if all of our calling minutes right now where equated into transferable credits like they are in Africa? In the Netherlands roughly 10 million users have a 200 minutes subscription, in M-Money terms that would be a monetary boost of 2 billion euros.
With 500 million users Facebook is the third largest country in the world after India and China. Facebook credits used to buy apps might just as easily be accepted and transferable as M-Money is in Africa. The Chinese government has repeatedly curbed virtual currencies. Last year it banned their use to buy real-world goods and services, in part because of concerns about the impact on the Yuan. Both M-Money and digital credits of the likes of Facebook seem very marginal currency alternatives for the West. But if lending remains expensive and recession turns into deflation there are going to be increasing incentives to find other means of payment.
Like the resourcefulness of emerging markets, necessity has again proven to be the mother of invention. It’s a matter of social agreement to accept a currency, their wasn’t always a dollar and the euro is certainly a new comer. So why not democratize the currency creation? Using social networks as an example for alternative banks or unbanks we might see the emergence of crowd loaning. It wasn’t that long ago that Linden Dollars in Second Life created real world millionaires. By no means will any form of credits dramatically replace cash in the near future, but step by step with micro payments and crowd loaning success stories trust in a credit platform will strengthen.
Resist or join
What scenarios are being created by information technology for money and body?
The scenario axis ‘Letting go of money and body’ measures along the horizontal axis the range of money creation from democratic and less paper money on the left to centralized on the right with banknotes as usual. The democratic scenario describes a world where consumers will have multiple payments possibilities ranging from m-Money, social media credits and straight up barter effectively using less paper money. Centralized is what we know today, a privately owned commercial bank that issues currency in exchange for government bonds with interest. The vertical axis measures the development of the avatar as it relates to technological capability and cultural acceptance. Moving upwards on the axis means we are increasing the impact of our avatars. Downwards shows a weaker virtual presence that could be the result of cultural barriers or privacy issues.
The scenarios for money and body are going to be about the resistance from replacing one system with another. The stakeholders being banking systems and hence their corresponding governments push the stakes hire. Will the existing financial authorities resist or join the game and further extending their influence. In terms of body, how will we accept avatars in public? Cultures will reject or embrace digital consciousness and it’s emerging service industry / delegation power?
1. Jenny C. Aker and Isaac M. Mbiti, Mobile Phones and Economic Development in
Africa, CGD Working Paper 211 2010. Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development
2. Excerpted from The avatar revolution: Here come the new humans, New Scientist, 07 June 2010
Letting go of money and body