I recently had the priviledge to visit a place, where i lived many years ago. Margraeflerland, in the far south of Germany, on the border with France and Swiss. It's sunny, golden, a place where they grow the grapes for wine. Back in the day i was working seasonally in the vinyards, and organic gardening, growing food and plants for color. It was a world of outdoor markets and country artist fairs, barter and trade living in a WG, wohngemeinshaft, a peculiar german system or shared or group housing. It was a world of food cooperatives, and working and trade to 'pay' rent, cook and eat together, sometimes milk the cows or clean out the stall.
I left that world for the digital. In '98 or '99 i got an imac, one of the little head computers, gave up the natural colors and 'went digital.' My strategy at the time was, whatever i do, it must be connected with the web, because in '99, the web was the future. Over the nearly two decades since, the trajectory of technology took me to Berlin, Hong Kong, Beijing, and back to europe, along the way technology has infused and altered my life, especially the years in Hong Kong during which so much more communication, teaching, engagement and life took place on a device, through an app or online.
When i returned to Margraeflerland, i was pleasantly reassured, as folks there live very much now, as we did then. They aren't necessarily online much, one friend had overlooked my fb friend request, in that he rarely uses fb. They use messaging apps, for example to organize an irregular sauna gathering at one of the community's house. They used speech to text and search to find the lyrics to old pop songs, to sing along together with one plying guitar. Technology is here too, but its use seemed immediate, and relating to connecting here and now. Not scrolling through endless posts, connected to other peoples' lives, but coordinating shortly to gather and play ping pong, in person together.
Enter the idea of commonfare, and how the tools provided by the platform are potentially, transformational. Sure, this is fertile ground for the model of localized currency in which people contribute to a network. The baker can get a massage, the therapist can get her vegetables, the farmers and market producing the vegatables can buy bread, and get massages...with enough people, goods and services connected through a commonfare group, an entire ecosystem, or economy, could exist simply shared and without euro dollars or yuan cash. The musician could trade lessons on sommonplace (nobody understands the connection between the market aspects of this page, and commonplace which they seem to think should be about meeting people, a place you go together).The farmer could trade their produce, through a commonplace account, and receive music lessons for their kids.
But at what cost, implementing a new system? People would need to be online more, to catch the developments and organize within the group (the emailing contact / money sending aspect of commoncoin isnt really user friendly, i think we want just to click a coin icon 'pay'). Going into town, people would have needs navigate using the mobile devce more, to discover which new businesses in town have joined the group, for example. Yet for people who are used to going to town, not looking a ttheir device, but looking up and at eachother, their neighbors and community members, that tech focus i would find it disturbing.
Going to commonfare.net with an old friend, i tried to share with him, what it was about. without me there telling him what each section is, he would have had no clue, he said. The ideas, when translated, elicited an "Oh, cool!" but he didnt join and probably wont until i mention it again, because at first i know it was hard to see, what use it could be to him. And the concept as a whole, for this small close-knit community of people, to meta organize through commonfare, regardless all of its potential, is a hard sell. Especially without and existing marketplace, (commonplace just doesnt ring like marketplace, does it?) there is no inentive to join and add the value of one's own goods or services.
Meanwhile, the nearby city of Freiburg im Breisgau has always been at the forefront of green city and new living concepts. With it's famous Vaubaun housing area even 20 years ago catching headlines for urban innovation and ecological concept living. In the meantime, Freiburg also got its hands on a Horizon 2020 grant and are experimenting with Smart Cities. The project sounds participatory which is a good thing, yet typically the first question on their agenda is, "What can we do with smart city infrastructures?" I read into the project and it seems the city plans to build out public private partnerships and network a bunch of data and manufaktur and design industries, and create both a citizens data archive (describing available services and policies) and a community exchange resource (allowing better citizen-citizen and citizen-government communication). Who knows, even one day the project might even have it's own local currency, that could be used in the city to...
Does this sound familiar? It does to me, like commonfare, and makes me wonder if a municipality could benefit from commonfare just as much as an alternative culture or agenda-based diy groups could. Yet the municipality is building their own system, with their own investors and referred partners, the transparency of their relationships i did not research in any detail. But, who do you trust? In these times of platform exhaustion, its hard to get peole to sign up for a new service, a new login and password, for what? And who is keeping what information about us online? Both the 'trusted' municipal website with its smart cities infrastructure, and the commonfare.net site just say something about cookies, but not really what data they collect and who can see it and what do they really use it for. Just it might seem that if i were to pick one, i would pick the municipality site with it's seeming formality, and utility, rather than join commonfare, where everything is a possibility but not much exists on the ground (or at least, these connections arent explicit on the platform).
In the end, i imagined, that in Margraeflerland, they are doing just fine. Probably without a smart city account, also without commonfare.net life is just different there, and people were content, families growing, kids moving up and out, sunshine and outdoors and hands in the earth. The community out there is a lived thing, together, in the sauna, and commonfare didnt really translate.