I was reading this post by Alex Danco, Homesteading the Twittersphere (the first one in a series), and the more I am thinking of what he calls the gift economy, the less convincing the concept is to me. I certainly do not know for sure what are the reasons people who give pieces of knowledge for free on the Internet think they have, but I do know the reasons I have, and they have nothing to do with gift-giving.
First things first. I suggest you read the aforementioned post by Alex Danco before carrying on with this piece of mine.
Did you? OK. You might have noticed that all his post goes around the idea of farming your personal brand awareness on the Internet so that grooming your professional recognition among your peers would eventually turn to a better job opportunity for you, among other alternatives of monetizing your network.
I do not see anything wrong with that. However, my motivations are different, and I believe there are enough people alike in our industry that further elaboration of our point is worth. So here it goes my view of what Homesteading your network is about.
Everyone is connected
The idea of a gift economy relies on the concept of a network of peers. Clearly, there are some people closer to us than others, and there is also the limit of peers your brain can handle, called Dunbar’s number. However, all these refer to our experiences as individuals. The economy needs people involved to work, the more the better, which is precisely what underpins my point: eveyone impacts everyone, no matter where and when they are.
Societies, and people, do not start from scratch when they are born. We all have a past, and on the shoulders of our elders, we settle our lives. Also in our present times, we all do impact on ourselves by polluting our common seas, blasting off a new protest, or pushing some lines of code to a software code repository.
Let me give you an example. People tend to think that the taxes they pay should be majorly spent nearby. The implicit assumption is that otherwise, that money is not improving their lives, which is fundamentally wrong. The same money invested here might have a higher, positive impact on me if spent far from where I live, even in another country. To think otherwise is human, for we are naturally inclined to whatever is closest to us in a sensitive point of view. But it is irrational too, as we are not making the work of linking causes with consequences, just judging by perceptions.
Even the slightest events that occurred far away may hit us profoundly. What happened to Wislawa Szymborska that pushed her to write her poems? I do not know, and never will, for they were the smallest events in a life that had no connection to mine. We were not peers in the same network, as we certainly are not now, after her death in 2012. She could not give me a gift to me, she never knew about me. But she changed who I am after I read her poems, and so by writing them she changed me and my value as a node in the economy we are all a part of, for we are what we do, and we do as we are.
Even economically, for there is no way to count for all the minor effect over effect that, cumulatively, entangle to make of us who we are, meaning the items we buy, the job opportunities we take or decline, the decisions we make. Everyone is connected, everyone influences everyone, and so all humans, past and present, matter.
In git we trust
That detour above will show itself relevant in a moment. In his post, Danco mentions that gifts are the means by which people in an economy of abundance polish their network of peers. According to that idea, what is the point of making a gift to a stranger? Honestly, I am not a person who gives people I do not know a gift. I am not interested in monetizing my network of peers either. So, why am I writing posts for free? And, more importantly, why is other people, thousands of people, giving the outcome of their work for free?
Let’s just pick an example: git, the most broadly used control version software in the world. The overall economical value of git in the current economy is incalculable, for it is the basis of how the huge majority of all software is handled nowadays. And none of these literally billions of euros of economical value goes into the pocket neither of Linus Torvalds, its first creator, nor those who continued his awesome ideas.
Do you really believe Linus Torvalds thought of increasing his personal brand with git by sharing it for free? Or, with the Linux kernel? I never saw him in the list of the richest people in the world, his face in any awards list, or as an executive in a big tech company, no matter how underpinning his labor has been for our modern times.
If there is a living example against the gift economy is Mr. Torvalds career, for his in the core building of our modern world, from the cloud to the mobile phone operating systems, to how software is created by I dare say every developer’s team in the world. Git, and the Linux kernel, prove that cooperation among strangers yields an enormous value to everyone, including people not born yet when they were invented.
Human history and present societies show us proof after proof that everyone has an impact on everyone, though through ways we are not capable of following from end to end, so entangled they are. Therefore, I am convinced that someone, somewhere, even very far away from here, may get something useful of what I do, connect to others, and ultimately return to me positively.
So there are no gifts here, not at all. With sharing, we are investing in our future selves.
Top image copyright notice: https://pixabay.com/photos/network-earth-block-chain-globe-3524352/