This past week I’ve visited the post office three times. I mailed out four books, two letters and six envelopes of small miscellany. Every one of these shipments was prompted by the Internet.
Tod said to me, “Wouldn’t it be funny if the Internet was what saved the post office?” From the blight caused by e-mail, he meant. People’s creativity, and desire for slower, physical interaction (another nod to the slow life) seems to be doing just that.
It reminds me of a short story I read in 1999. Bruce Sterling’s Maneki Neko describes an alternate, underground economy of gift giving that’s run by a network of computers. Characters get phone calls and e-mails from the system telling them what to do, when and where. In return for their random acts (usually of kindness) they reap benefits of others’ anonymous acts.
The networks I belong to are moderated by computers, but with a clearer cause and effect to the exchanges.
Last week’s four books went out from Bookmooch requests. Bookmooch is a book trading service with about 8,000 active members and 200,000 books. You list your unwanted books and other people can request them. And of course, you can mooch other people’s books. There’s a point system to keep things fair. We’ve mailed out 23 books since September. Nine books have made their way to our house. Our Bookmooch inventory is here, in case you want to mooch from our list and send me to the post office again.
The rest of the mail out went because of Swap-bot. I got turned on to swaps last year when we did the Creative Perspectives CD swap. Swap-bot members are mainly crafters, so a lot of the swaps are for yarn or buttons or collage bits and some are “artist trading cards” or pen-pal style letters. Searching through the swap listings is great fun and there are always a few that tickle my creative fancy: handmade envelopes, matchbox and film canister fills, music mixes, recipes, handmade stuff…
In Sterling’s story the government is much concerned with tax evasion from the gift economy. I wonder if the government will twig to these alternate physical economies and start taxing us for books we mooch, or boxes of tiny beads and buttons we exchange? There’s talk about how to manage online game economies - the sale of avatars in Second Life, or gear auctioned off in World of Warcraft.