“Makers”. Last night (yes, whole night) I had the pleasure of reading Cory Doctorow’s “Makers” sci-fi novel. My first novel in 14 years that I finished. Ok, I skimmed at times. But still. The great thing with inspiring novels like this is, they can create intense emotional impressions, and from reflecting on these, you learn a lot. Things you otherwise only learn by real-world experience. Here’s what I learned from “Makers”.

Cory Doctorow – Makers
(image by ben_oesteen on Flickr, licenced CC-BY 2.0)

The “ups and downs” theme. The novel’s main theme is the ups and downs, coming and going of all social and organizational development. In my words: Every empire starts with a kingdom, a kingdom with a chief of clan, a clan with just a household and somebody wanting to dominate. In the other direction, every empire ever built has also fallen apart. Rome disintegrated within decades in the third century.

Lifecycle, applied to grassroots movements. And here came the first key insight from “Makers” for me: this full cycle also applies to grassroots social structures. That’s a disappointing insight, but a true one. The novel illustrates it in two halves: for the rising half cycle, how these “ride” parks or museums agglomerated into coops and finally got associated with Disney, plus one of their creative brains bought by Disney. And for the decaying half cycle, how the Kodacell company, starting as a huge incorporated grassroots innovation network, fell apart completely in a wink. Let’s imagine a real-world example: the Open Source movement developed its own institutions by now, and these, over the course of decades or maybe centuries, will become so rigid and cold that a new movement will justifiably fight against them, and finally render them obsolete. (For me, socialized in “old school” Linux open source culture, it’s already weird to see how the thousands of young talented Android developers at XDA Developers have a near complete disregard for licencing: their full site and wiki does not mention what licence is applied to content and code.)

So is it all just a waste of our time? At this point we could argue that all this building, fighting against and rebuilding of society structures is a waste of resources. That we should rather invest to keep our social organization ever young and flexible. Indeed, a way to use your time more efficiently, by a tight bit. What you can’t argue is that maintaining great society structures is a lot of maintenance work. Even building completely new society structures from scratch is maintenance, in the bigger picture: you replace a failing part of global social organization.

Social change activism as maintenance. So, social activism is never going to be building a great society, once and for all. It’s always part of humanity’s “eternal” struggle to keep society in good shape, if necessary rebuilding it in a completely different way. Let this point sink in: activism is not building, engineering. It is maintaining.

Activists, relax. This also means that activists can all relax a bit: the fate of the world does not depend on their proper invention and construction of society, because society will have to be rebuilt again many times in the centuries to come. This should help activists to know their fair share of maintenance work to contribute, but to also know that “more does not make it better”. The big thing, society, will fail again anyways, just like it always has, and generations afterwards will have to build it again. Sure, one generation (like after-war) has a bigger way to influence how a society is built, a bigger workload, a bigger responsibility. But even they should not forget that what they do is the necessary maintenance of a constantly deteriorating and failing organism.

There’s more to life than activism. So let’s not forget that there’s more to life than fixing the fabric of society. What? It’s also in Doctorow’s book. The two things the protagonists of “Makers” did not regret were (1) doing what they like to do, like hacking and inventing stuff, and (2) investing in good personal relationships. Because, just like society, relationships need maintenance to be and stay enjoyable: they are also subject to these ups and downs, and you see how every relationship in the book is at least once on the brink of being destroyesd, and a lot of them are.

The danger of failing to relax. And there’s one special danger for personal relationships, exemplified in a sad twist in the epilogue. Revealing the only lack in character of the most glorious and brilliant woman in the book (which is, of course, Hilda). She took up her activist fighting again so hard to lose the beautiful relationship to Jerry over that. That annoyed me so hard that I changed around the end for me (it’s a CC-BY-SA book after all). But Mr. Doctorow has a point with that sad twist: society maintenance is infinite work after all, necessary, but not fulfilling after seeing its Sisyphus character. So better limit yourself to your fair share of maintenance and enjoy your mate. Somebody should’ve explained that to Hilda in time …

I guess I should change around the “Makers” ending again: rather than letting Hilda and Jerry just stick together happily ever after, I will now go for adding a few more pages where Hilda has learned her lesson. She’s smart enough, after all 🙂 And with that lesson learned, there’s indeed such a thing as permanent love, not to be destroyed by the rather unimportant coming and going of good state of the surrounding society.

Life is more than fighting something bad. Life is also about enjoying something good!

“But now faith, hope, and love remain—these three. The greatest of these is love.”

[The Bible, I Cor 13:13]

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Detect language » English

“For rent”. Too easy to find in some places …

Getting around a bit in Europe, you easily get to know how people’s life is not a box of chocolates. That guy who destroys his body and his really intelligent mind by too much weed and psychedelics, seeing no other way to get over a broken relationship. The young woman who suddenly expresses a desire to die, like by jumping from the mountain we sat on talking (but thankfully, she’s alive and well). All the nice-looking houses I walked by in Málaga, noticing people’s shattered dreams from their “For Sale” signs. It saddens me how we, the humans, search satisfaction in vain.

But aren’t we already very creative in our search? We try everything, from yoga to hashish, from power to strong opinions. Not to forget the favorite of Westerners: stuff for consumption, security and independence. Our effort to search and maintain satisfaction is so encompassing that it summarizes what we as humans do. Our whole culture (“non-survival activity”) is just about that.  Still, we mostly don’t find it.

What are we doing wrong?

What is it that we search?

The first reason for not finding might be this: because we don’t know what we search. We may feel a diffuse inner emptyness and try something to fix it, but don’t know that it is satisfaction we search. Which is “living in accordance with your ideas and wishes”, also called happiness. Without using the proper concept, we have difficulty choosing the right actions, and also cannot communicate properly to get help from our fellow humans, who also search the same thing but in something else.

The second reason is best explained along illustrations. Of my friends, only two I consider “satisfied”:

The first one “just” wants to have economic power, a family, and lots of interesting and expensive stuff to deal with. That’s still limited, because it is just about private life. It even worked out, as he met with a lot of luck: inherited wealth, “good genes” for motivation and bite, an economically valuable hobby. He has a high self-esteem, which allows his success in a challenging economic environment, but also hides his own failures and deficiencies from himself (so that they don’t affect his happiness). In case of failure, he uses his innate motivation and tries something new quickly, forgetting about the bad success. This way, in time, he arrives at a satisfying outcome. And for really bad personal calamity, he has a strong trust in God, protected from doubt by a strong self-confident opinion about his beliefs. And so it works.

Another friend is also satisfied, and it works completely different: he’s very relaxed and humble, not caring for his many bad successes and failures. He developed a sophisticated mental way, including both self-irony and deep philosophy, to admit his failures but keep them from affecting his emotions (they would rather infuriate others’). But he’s also very sociable and so, together with some luck, has found both a superb relationship to a woman and an interesting, well-paid, permanent job even before finishing his studies (in twice the normal time). Interestingly, he seemed just as satisfied when he had neither job nor girl, by means of his failure-ignoring capabilities. (Note: To illustrate, I remembered the pic below. We kinda shared a flat for two years. Once he completely forgot my birthday, but would show up at midnight with that improvised “cake” and a present he found in his room 😀 That was the kind of humble self-irony he was capable of, feeling not awkward, but happy in a hard to understand way when pulling something like this.)

The birthday cake I remember the most!

What these both have in common is that their satisfaction is provided not by one thing but by a system, “a set of interacting, interdependent components forming an integrated whole”. That may be the second reason why satisfaction does not work for most of us: we try one thing, tinker a bit, throw it away and try the next, unaware that we’re working on a system which needs several components and an informed design to work. Searching satisfaction in one component is as hopeless as driving around in a wheel.

Systems engineering for satisfaction

Of course, “system” is just a model. It helps discuss and understand satisfaction, but necessarily simplifies and distorts its reality. Other models can be just as valid. But because the “system” model proved useful above, let’s explore what systems engineering can teach us about building our own satisfaction system. (And yes, everyone has to build their own unique one, because some parts are unique: character, memories, body, personal situation.)

  1. It’s cross-discipline! In addition to needing several components, you need to integrate several types of them: genetic, mental, material, social and (I think) transcendent ones. To a limited degree, you can supplement one for another, like more meditation to cope with material scarcity. But what you can’t do is getting satisfaction from accumulating just one thing. But Westerners often try just that with materiel stuff, and advertising wants to keep us as unsatisfied consumers …
  2. Start with the parts you can’t change. Which is, your genetic disposition. Also, your character is super hard to change. The same for the general level of wealth. This is the stuff that has to be in the system because you have no alternatives.
  3. If you forget one part, it won’t work. That’s special about systems: they depend 100% on each and every component. You can’t drive a car without its steering wheel, accelerator pedal, petrol hose, … .
    My own story of forgetting a part is this: I had always focused very much to have “meaning” in what I do, and wondered why I lack motivation to live and to work, even to work for my meaningful tasks. Until I found recently: Everything loses its meaning when life is not enjoyable. Because what’s the meaning even of fixing the world and helping others, when after that, they would experience their life to be as joyless as your own? So now I added “beauty” to my life: just enjoying life, and it also motivates me meaningful work that provides a good life to others. At least that’s the idea now – it’s kinda hard to change own habits. But the insight is that, on their own, neither meaning nor beauty provide any satisfaction to me, yet together it can work.
  4. Design, try and error. When designing your own satisfaction system, you can’t really know if it works until you start living it. But you can let other designs inform yours, and profit from the experiences of others. But still, because everybody is unique, there is a place for try and error. And for the “try often, fail fast” approach of rapid prototyping, like in software development …
  5. Use compatible parts. If you want satisfaction, want it first. You have to throw out or modify other things you want or values you have, if it’s impossible to fit them into the “system”.
  6. Use a doable design. Some ideas how to achieve satisfaction are just too complex or too much work for one gal or guy. For example, some philosopher and activist folks can be constantly unhappy about “the state of the world”. I know it too well. But the world won’t become Utopia in our lifetime, so we can keep that as a grand goal but should tie our satisfaction to more modest successes. In my case, I want to be happy about every step towards a free-to-copy, small, local Utopia. Or, as it can happen to me, being happy during that work itself because I think it’s meaningful.
  7. Use a socially responsible design. This means simply: don’t derive satisfaction at the cost of others. For example: a person who constantly refuses to understand and discuss the problems of others, while constantly discussing their own with them, would rob the satisfaction of socializing from others. And if everybody employs an approach at the net cost of others’ satisfaction, it simply would not work out on society level. It works out only if “you do to others as you want them to do to you”. That simple Golden Rule 🙂
  8. Make it agile. As a person one always changes, and so do our surroundings and situations. So better don’t design a static satisfaction system, but make it easily adaptable and reconfigurable. (I admit this is a completely theoretic idea so far, but it “sounds good”. Maybe somebody can map this to the practical search for satisfaction. I recommend “Design Principles for Highly Adaptable Business Systems” for inspirations, esp. p. 13.)
  9. Make it redundant. A redundant system includes backups and provides n × 100% satisfaction in total. A scaled system provides 100% satisfaction in total, but in parts. So in case of a failure, all but one part still provide you satisfaction. That’s worse than redundancy, but better than zero. Both designs require that one has more than one way for satisfaction. That is also, more than one set of ideas and wishes in life.
  10. Make it sustainable. It is possible to derive some satisfaction from eating, recreational shopping, drugs, smoking and so on. But when overdoing these, using them as the basis of all satisfaction, in the long run it can ruin a person instead of providing satisfaction. Used carefully however, in the right amount, pretty much everything that humans can do and enjoy has its place. (Two female friends of mine enjoy special moments of the year by smoking a cigarillo together … so harmless!)
  11. And make it resilient. People care to go off-grid with their house, to make it resilient against failure of the central electricity and water infrastructure. In the same way, we should make our approach to satisfaction resilient against being crushed by external events. From this perspective, it’s for example not a good idea to make satisfaction revolve around a day job. When losing my job, I want still feel meaningful, valuable, and also my lifestyle or anything else relevant for my satisfaction should not collapse.

I will create a follow-up post to analyze my own (so far, largely failing) approach to satisfaction and ways to fix it. I also want to look into explaining a person’s satisfaction system as a diagram. And finally to develop best practices, patterns and instructions how to design and implement an own satisfaction system. This will also include ways to measure and track satisfaction, maybe a smartphone application that asks me about my satisfaction at random times. Ideas welcome!

(A ton of thanks to my friend María for the discussion that inspired everything above!)

On a nice evening with a friend in Málaga this October, we developed this idea for political street art. (We were kinda oversugared from the best icecream in town … it explains something, doesn’t it? 😀 ) Initially we wanted to cut our own “Espere Revolución” signs and install them over the city’s normal push-button boxes for pedestrian traffic lights. But for now, it’s a mockup.

Political street art: Espere Revolución (small excerpt size 1024×768)

Political street art: Espere Revolución (large size 2048×1365)

The pedestrian traffic lights sign in the image reads: “Touch the button”. Then you push it, and it says then: “Expect revolution.” (It’s normally “Espere Verde” – expect green light. Plus a standing person with both hands down.)

Licence: Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 2.0

Credits: The original image was created by flickr.com user david buedo and published as flickr image 6949945397 under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 2.0 licence. Thank you!

Modifiable version: Just tell me in the comments if somebody wants the GIMP .xcf.bz2 file of this, with layers for easy modification to make other signs as well.

Some weeks ago, the EarthOS project happily made it to be a part of a presentation by Nadia El-Imam at TEDxULg (it’s the first project of those she presents, starting at 0:50):

All this happened because of the Edgeryders project. It’s an initiative to listen to the stories, ideas and strategies of young people to derive policy recommendations for our Europe-in-crisis from that. The project is funded by the European Union and the Council of Europe, and organized by the Social Cohesion Research and Early Warning division of the Council of Europe. I contributed some things about EarthOS and the “open everything” movement, and was happy enough to get the opportunity for a small presentation about EarthOS at the Edgeryder’s Living On the Edge 2012 conference in Strasbourg, which was 2012-06-14 to -15. Yep, and finally Nadia, creative director at Edgeryders, included this and several other projects in her powerful presentation at TEDxULg, one of the independently organized TED events.

So much free publicity for EarthOS, and it’s not even ready be published! It seems I need to hurry up 😉

It has been 3.5 months since releasing it actually, but I wanted to point it out in its own post: the new version 0.12 of the EarthOS document has been published. Access it with that given link, or via “Downloads -> Main” in the site menu.

A quick intro to the EarthOS project for those who do not know yet:

What is it for? EarthOS, or “Earth Operating System”: what Linux is for the computer, EarthOS aspires to be for this world: a free, open, DIY operating system. It contains free and open tech for all of life, essentially being a “civilization in a box” with which individuals can reach a high level of personal autarky and resilience, and communities of ~200 can reach it fully. From a social change perspective, EarthOS is a local community centric, freedom enabling approach to global human co-living, making it both stable and sustainable.

What does it look like? So far, like a long document of 971 pages A4 (as of version 0.12). The document contains both a framework of design principles and technical interface standards, and also the actual list of equipment items. You will find web references to hundreds of interesting free and open projects in this document.

What's the current state? So far, the document is far from done. I guess that about 25% of the work is done on the way to a collaboratively edited and finished document in similar-to-Wikipedia quality. The current version 0.12 still has a heritage of being derived from a personal project with a somewhat different focus. And unfortunately, that initial project was documented in German language, which has to be translated. Also, there are hundred of notes and references to open projects in so-called "unsorted sections", which have to be worked through to get them either into the proper place in EarthOS, or discard them if they do not fit in. The key decisions about the EarthOS system architecture (including equipment levels, energy sources, technical interface standards) are done, but some might need to be corrected as the work on the document and on DIY tech itself progresses.

Who is doing it?  So far, it is a personal open content project of mine. But I'm open to find more collaborators, and esp. want to bring it into a shape for comfortable collaboration with others. For that, Open Source Ecology has agreed to host the content in their wiki “if it's about open source, modular, simple  lifetime design ideas” – which it is. So if you want to help out with that conversion, and further development, very welcome to contact me.

Currently I'm building the first parts of my truck's furniture system. The system is based on gridbeam, an awesome simple DIY construction system from the 1970's. Practically this means: boxes, room partitioning walls, shelves, desks etc. all use the same sheet material and connector elements and with the same compatible hole pattern, so one can build everything from the same set of elements, and can reuse the parts from a no longer needed object to build something else. Or reconfigure the furniture according to current demands, using an inbus wrench.

I'm starting to build my furniture with some simple storage boxes that will be secured to the wall in several layers, yielding a big 70 cm deep shelf for general storage. Both this box system and gridbeam itself are detailed in the interface specs part of the EarthOS document. But here's a quick overview of my design choices:

  • Compatible with ISO pallets. Size is 700 x 350 x 350 mm, together with with handles and corner elements etc. up to 800 x 400 x 400 mm is allowed.
  • Same size walls. The basic wall size is 350 x 350 mm, and in this case I build double-depth boxes, so some walls are 700 x 350 mm. These larger walls could also be created by combining two of the smaller walls with aluminum sheet metal connectors; and likewise for even larger boxes. To allow creating a box from just same-sized walls, the walls have 45°  beveled edges.
  • 50 mm gridbeam system. This means, all sheet material has a 50 x 50 mm hole pattern starting 25 mm from all edges (holes are here only around the edges, more holes can be added on demand). Holes in boards are 8.5 mm for M8 bolts, but in the case of boxes fitting for M6 sleeve nuts. Holes in aluminum connector elements are 6.5 mm for M6 bolts.
  • Modified hammer-in nuts. I really had a problem finding reasonably priced sleeve nuts for going into the board holes – I'm just not paying 1 EUR and more for one lathed sleeve nut, that would be 55 EUR per box for 'em alone. So I finally tried ordinary M6x8 hammer-in nuts with their four spikes, and just cut away the spikes with tinsnips. By letting 1 mm of the spikes in place, these nuts will not even free-rotate when at the loose end and turning a bolt into them. They have enough grip in wood that way, while the sheet wood and the nut is still reusable infinitely (which was not the case with the spikes in place).
  • Bolts used. Currently M6 x 13 stainless steel (A2-70) bolts with inbus head. Used together with a washer to secure the bolt against loosing and to better distribute the force to the (relatively soft) aluminium sheet metal.
  • Apt for cheap and salvage materials. I'm currently creating the corner elements from simple aluminum sheet metal that I had lying around and that can be had from the local recycling yard nearly for free (as in free beer, not as in FREE BEER). Using 50 x 50 mm and 100 x 50 mm aluminum L-profile is also possible and looks better (examples in second picture) but is of course more expensive and less autarkic. Also, one can use many different types of material for the box walls: any thickness will fit because of the beveled edges and because the box's outer measures are standardized, not the inner ones.

Writing this I realize how trivially simple this design is. Yet the simple ones are hard, for whatever reason. I had developed thoughts for the box system over months, and even started building one variant which was way too complex and too expensive. The current variant emerged after some great, inspiring discussions with my Dad on the matter. (I should know where my hacker genes come from ;))

And here are some pictures of the current progress with the boxes. (Some parts are obviously still missing: corner elements for stacking, handles, a flap, locking bolts.)

See this unrelated item in the media gallery? It's a rare Thermoflash fluid-heated jacket that I got as a bargain on eBay. Can keep everybody warm through German winter. Yep, really everybody 😉 Normally used on motorbikes and connected to the engine's cooling circuit via a heat exchanger and digital temperature control.

Most of us Europeans might be heading for a severe economic crisis, including mass impoverishment, food supply shortages, restricted personal mobility, and cutdowns on medical care. To err on the right side, let’s say, all of us are heading for a really severe such crisis. And some of us are in it – Greece is cutting edge, they’re the front warriors now …

With this approaching, I thought repeatedly what simple, fast to set up system could bring us safely through such a time. Because we won’t have much time and resources left to set up something once the crisis is there, and before it, hardly anybody cares … . Here’s what I came up with so far … nothing’s finished, but it might offer some inspirations.

The Basic Idea: Jump-starting Local Economy

What seems clear is that this resilience has to be provided in a local environment: the trans-local systems are broke then anyway, there’s no critical mass of people with enough resources to fix them in the near term, and lack of fuel etc. restricts activity to the local area naturally.

The basic observation behind this proposal is: everything for a strong local economy, including most everything we need is already available locally with limited effort. Even in severe mass impoverishment, a community is far richer than it seems: there will be much unused resources and things left over from the “age of affluence”, and one man’s trash is another man’s treasure … .

If only we would know of each other’s needs and wants! Because our current economic knowledge capturing and distribution system does not fit for the local level, and does not fit for crisis times at all. Because, it does not index anything about unused resources and reusable trash objects – these things are simply ignored as valueless in a “functioning” economy. But they’re all that is left after a breakdown.

So the basic idea is to have a “Local Resource Information System” on the Internet. (And to have Internet at least city-wide, obviously!). In essence, this is about sharing and collaborative consumption of plain everything that the multi-faceted collaborative consumption economy is about. It should provide all the information for local economic activity in the highest synergy that is attainable. And it should be able to provide sufficient autarky in any municipal area of 20 000 people and up (own wild estimate!). The idea is a bit similar to the “state services in a box” one, but rather meant to start within a quickly deteriorating situation (like in Greece or Spain these days) rather than from a momentarily crash.

Design of a Local Resource Information System (LRIS)

Content

Eventually, every product and service that can be produced locally should be registered in the LRIS. But while the national economy is “just” tight but not completely broken down, the focus should probably be on unused and underused resources. It does not compete with the formal economy business while it’s still functioning, it still gets the LRIS running, and it offers the most benefit to the local population (namely, “free” resources).

Unused and underused resources to be managed by the LRIS would include:

  • Unused things. There are literally tons of unused things available in private homes and companies. This would work similar to classifieds, but with the difference of trying to index all unused movable things available in the local area, whereas classifieds might only have 1-2%. Unused things include everything from unused mobile phones (40 million in Germany alone!) to unused and potentially broken agricultural devices in the barns of the elderly. In crisis time, we can’t afford not using this. Underuse is wasted wealth!
  • Meal sharing. With realtime coordination on the LRIS web portal: you offer how many people you would invite, and if they register in time, you’ll cook a bit more and let them be part of the regular family meal, for a compensation in alternative currency. This amounts to a distributed community kitchen, of which the hosts profit by earning the compensation for little additional effort, and the guests by saving time for preparing their own meals. And as always, synergy means prosperity.
  • Surplus food. This means both surplus agricultural produce, and also leftovers from meals that would else be thrown away. The latter would be done with a real-time coordination system, where you enter what is left over after the meal, and within 15 minutes somebody will drop by to pick it up. The goal is to reduce the amount of food that is thrown away from today’s 25% or more to 0%. Trashed food is trashed wealth! Update 2012-09-09: Here’s an example of somebody who started this in Lisbon, Portugal: collecting food leftovers with a bike from restaurants and markets, then distributing it to the poor [German article].
  • Trash wood. And other burnable trash, as fuel.
  • Surplus gardening materials. Like humus, earth, hay, grass. Some have too much, and others just need this.
  • Storage capacity. Like in old and underused parts of commercial facilities.
  • Private car sharing and ride sharing. Also including parking spot and car port sharing.
  • Private transportation services.
  • Accommodation. Both as re-use of abandoned houses and commercial facilities, and as taking in people in guest rooms. In crisis times, the standards for what is expected from a guest room will drop, which means that much more underused private rooms can get a reasonable use.
  • Medical counselling. From experienced private persons, reputation based.
  • Help with repairs and odd jobs. This is esp. to give a forum to people with free time and skills but no way to compete in a regular market – like the retired handicraftsman who likes to explain to the young how to do repair their cars. This is an underused resource like everything else, and not using it even in crisis times just means the local economy is poorer than it had to be.
  • Privately tool lending and workshop sharing. With coordination via a web portal.
  • Private workshop services. There are lots of underused special machines even in private homes, including welders, CNC cutters etc.. Their owners do not have the time to make a business from them, but might be happy to help out with them at times, or to let a well-reputed LRIS portal user access them in exchange for something else.
  • Electricity sharing. From photovoltaics production etc..
  • Sharing of home produced goods. Many people can produce canned food, marmelade, fruit juices, furniture, firewood, bread, herbal extracts etc. for themselves, and could easily produce some surplus. Legal restrictions mean that they cannot do so commercially, which basically is a waste of production capacity. Which should be fixed by enabling a trade with these in the LRIS.

Map Integration

When it’s about local economy and restricted mobility, resource maps and vicinity search are a great help for navigating to the best options for economic interchange. An interesting tool for this is the free and open source Ushahidi platform (also available as the Crowdmap web service). It’s normally used for crisis mapping in natural catastrophies, so why not for crisis mapping in economic catastropies … . But an economy software has of course to add a tight integration of the map with the trading feature, including live information on supply and “online shopping”. That’s missing so far in the applications I’m aware of.

With proper map integration and vicinity search, it would also not be mandatory to have one portal per municipal area, but instead one can have one for a region. Because depending on the type of resource, some things are economically relevant beyond city boundaries even when mobility and transport capacity is severely restricted.

Trading

Using a local currency for the trading in the LRIS seems to be a good idea, because it can protect the local economy from the global one, where there would always be a company with lower prices. However, the experiences with launching local currency systems are a bit disappointing: it works in crisis times, but it does not reach critical mass while the economy works “normally”: people don’t see the advantages then that would persuade them of using a less convertible currency.

However, a good and workable preparation could be to introduce the alternative currency for just the “unused resources exchange” part of the LRIS. It can be easily explained as a system of exchanging trash for trash, ensuring mutual synergy by prohibiting people to capitalize on others’ trash by selling in commercial scale. In addition, the LRIS’s trading section would need a feedback and evaluation part for trust building in the local economy.

To implement the alternative currency, one could re-use an existing software for that (cf. for example my analysis).

Community Activities

In crisis times, where a city will lack the money to provide certain public services and citizen do not have any (legal tender) money to spend on this, these public services can be provided by shared work from citizens. The LRIS software would include sophisticated project management that can organize (for example) to build a huge public hackerspace as a community project, where everything is provided from private means: the tools, the workforce, the meals for the workers. It leads to extremely cheap solutions, cutting through all the slack and overhead of commercial “solutions” (where the incentive is to make money, not to provide something good as a public service). Citizens would be required to work (like) 100 hours a year for such community projects, but could choose those that match their interests and skills. If done right, this way of grassroots community provided public services is “the efficient style of planned economy”, because it has the service users as service providers.

Ease of Use

When an economy is confined to be local, there’s no way around integrating plain everybody. If somebody does not contribute because of technical difficulties or usability issues, he or she might still survive without the synergistic trading, but the worse issue is, it’s a severe blow to this small local economy because the synergy is also missing from the economy as a system. Making it more fragile and less efficient. To ensure everybody’s inclusion, there are several usability and interface issues to take care of:

  1. All-in-one portal. The current collaborative consumption economy is highly fragmented by type of product and service. Within a local area, none of these sub-markets would have critical mass. The LRIS should be one central web portal for the complete local economy.
  2. Active data sourcing. It’s the most effective way to real critical mass locally: going around and asking all the people for their resources and persuading them to contribute and also asking for updates on resources.
  3. Phone and office interface. Where every local inhabitant is so valuable for the local economy, this also includes the elderly people who simply cannot deal with computers, but also have needs and offers (like unused rooms for storing things, taking people in, unused agricultural devices etc.). A phone and personal interface can be provided by a small company operating the LRIS, see below.
  4. Help with computing. Even those who are open to use the web interface may need a bit of training, a helpdesk and the active distribution of computing equipment (also via the LRIS) to get everybody connected.

Resource Mapping as Business?

Even better than starting the LRIS once we are in the middle of a crisis would be to have it up and running and becoming well-used before that happens. There seems to be a way for this. Because, it is an opportunity for a small (2-10 people) social entrepeneurship business / collective consumption startup to set up the LRIS for their local municipal area. Apart from setting up and maintaining the software, these people would mainly travel around and collect the data by themselves. Because in many cases, this active data collection is the only way to reach critical mass for a web portal in a localenvironment that is not in crisis mode yet. And it surely is the only way to register all the unused and broken things lying around: the problem with trash is, people are too lazy to even do something to offer it.

Collecting the data is as straightforward as visiting people house by house, explaining the idea, and if they want to be part of the system, making pictures and notes about what own products, unused resources and trash objects they would offer in the local economy. For the business aspect, I suggest that these resource mappers should work on a donation basis to be a truly social, non-capitalist business. This won’t generate any riches, but should keep the business floating. Like for example, people will offer them more often than not that they could have trash objects that they’re currently recording, if they remove them. Which they would do, storing them in unused buildings that they also mapped out, and offering them like everything else in the LRIS, to then get food and other essentials in return.

By the way: LRIS-as-business idea was inspired after reading an impressive list from a U.S. author about jobs to do in a recession. There was a “list broker” job in there, which was essentially the LRIS core idea before the advent of the Internet. There is some truth to the saying that U.S. citizens have this ingenious self-made-man and entrepeneuring approach of adapting to a recession …