The article in the url below signals yet another way in which our social norms are 'changing' (if you are optimistic), 'breaking down' (if you are concerned), at the intersection of virtual reality and social media. It does so by discussing the emergence of Venmo, a digital payment service that facilitates the transfer of small amounts of money among friends:
"When a cash register rings in Silicon Valley, one often sees the person who is paying being told: 'I'll Venmo you' by their friends. The peer-to-peer payments app Venmo has fast-tracked its way to being a verb as the cashless crowd adopts it to split their bills. This easy pinging of money means people have started paying each other back for the smallest things: a burrito, a cocktail, a coffee."
The shift that is occurring as a result, according to the author, is from a more trusting society (based on multiple repeat interactions) to a more transient society (where relationships are seen as single interactions and, as a result, less valued):
"Venmo and its rivals are of course convenient when splitting the cost of large purchases: a ski chalet for the weekend or a utility bill with roommates. But they have rapidly led to the expectation that you will count dollars and cents between friends."
As the author notes, trust is the foundation of our economic system of market exchange. Money (cash, in particular) came along later as that trust began to break down:
"In his 2011 book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, anthropologist David Graeber describes how credit came before coins. … Debt was a sign of trust: you knew you would see that person again and they would behave fairly. Money was used by the military, the soldiers passing through who could not be trusted."
In other words, we are now holding each other accountable for small amounts of money that, in a more trusting society based on long-term ties, would not be tracked:
"New technologies often encourage us to do something because we can, leaving us to weigh the social consequences only after these innovations have been taken up on a massive scale. Just because it is easier to pay a friend for a $4 coffee on Venmo rather than by counting out the change, why should we? Would it not be better to wait until we can buy them a coffee or a beer at a later date? Not wiping the slate clean at the end of every date may in fact show, in Graeber's words, a desire to develop ongoing relations."
The author also shows how trust is ebbing away from many of the social interactions that used to be the foundation of what constituted friendship. In other words, the sharing economy is a sign of weaker, not stronger, relationships among people:
"When I first moved to San Francisco, I told my mother I was considering hiring someone from TaskRabbit, a service that allows people to bid to do your odd jobs, to help me hang curtains and assemble flat-pack furniture. Her reaction was: 'But isn't that what neighbours are for?' … Before Uber, it would be kind to offer to drop someone at the airport. Recently a friend was confused when he was asked to drive a classmate to the departure hall, and wondered if she'd heard the ride-hailing service could take her there."
The author concludes that we are in danger of "substituting community for convenience." Rather than concede, however, she is preparing to resist:
"Next time someone tells me: 'I'll Venmo you,' I will reply: 'I got this,' knowing I am showing my trust in my friends, as people have done for thousands of years, through the small debts that bind us."
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Real friends don't bother to sweat the small change
By Hannah Kuchler
February 9, 2017
Late Edition – Final