LILY COLE on THE GIFT ECONOMY


I made a Christmas card for someone this Christmas
that was a sketch of myself, like, at my computer with my back to them that said, “I’m sorry,
I can’t talk right now. I’m, like, trying to make the world more social.” Lily, you’re known for being a model and
an actress, but you’ve now become an entrepreneur creating an app for social change. Can you
talk to us about Impossible and this concept of the gift economy? Impossible was prompted by a conversation
with a friend. We were talking about the economy and why is it when the economy struggles that
society struggles. Because if you think about it, we all have an abundance of skills, resources,
time, and is there not another way that we could mobilize things to move around? I called
it Impossible because I thought that a lot of people would say it was impossible. It’s
an incredibly utopian proposition. And so I quite liked facing the cynics from the beginning
with the name. The philosophy behind it was really something of individual empowerment,
trying to say how powerful we all are in determining our world and our reality. and that we have
the ability in any given moment to kind of rethink it, reshape it, re-see it. And so
once you collectively decide, you know, we’re not gonna exchange, we’re not gonna use
money. What will mean something is what you personally can bring to the equation, and
whether that’s an object or just an ear or your time. By bringing that, then you experience
all these people around you bringing what they have to offer. Wouldn’t it be so wonderful
if I felt like the people around me were there for me? Like, supported me? And if I had a
need that they would meet it. And the price I have to pay for that is just to be able
to offer up whatever I can where I see the opportunity, which actually probably would
make me happy to do anyway. The calling card there is community and cooperation. And so
the hope with impossible is to create a community that allows us to both give to one another
and to receive from one another. As I started digging into that idea more and doing kind
of research I became more and more inspired by the social value I saw was offered. I went
to burning man last summer. I’d already been working on Impossible for a few years
by that point and was fairly familiar with the gift economy as a concept and as a cultural
practice, but my experience of the gift economy was limited to either my experience of it
with friends, my experience of it, you know, sometimes with strangers but not so often,
obviously my family. Ways I understand it manifesting in things like Wikipedia or academic
circles, and then in books. I’d always been inspired by the idea behind that she lived
in a gift economy, like in an absolute gift economy, and so I thought, “Before I launch
this platform to the world that I think is a really good idea, maybe I should actually
go and experience it.” I feel like it’s allowed me to be a more generous person, it’s
allowed me to be open to receiving help, which I always found quite hard to do before, and
to be open to, like, being interdependent with other people. I understand the difference
between the gift economy and exchange economies, which is the dominant model we live in, in
the concept of reciprocity. And so in exchange mediums I give something to somebody because
I expect something in return whereas in the gift economy I’m doing something for somebody
else but not because I want anything in return, just because I can and because I see an opportunity
that that person needs something maybe that I don’t or I have a skill or a service or
a bit of time that I can offer to that person. And there isn’t an expectation of return.
But because I believe in that way of being, inevitably if everyone else is doing that,
someone else will do the same for me. So when I have a need it will be met by somebody else.
So the return actually is always there and is inevitable, which is something doing something
for somebody else for no reason, you know, for absolutely no reason but just to be helpful
because you can. And I think it does actually happen all the time and I just think it’d
be nice to see a little bit more of it. We’ve had quite a few people posting on Impossible
things like, “I wish I could stay afloat for another…” you know, “I wish I didn’t
worry about staying afloat every month.” And I think that the amount of pressure that
financial debt and debt puts on people, the stress that money kind of often puts on so
many people is really sad. Like, it’s a really sad way for us to experience a lot
of our lives. And feeling like if you don’t make enough money to pay your bills this month,
you could be out on the streets. You know, like, there isn’t a kind of natural support
system in the people around you that you feel like, “Hey, these people have got my back.
You know, like, worse comes to worse I know it’ll be fine.” So many people I think
potentially exist without that psychologically. And I think think there’s any real need
or reason for that because, as I said at the beginning, like, we have an abundance, like,
we have kind of a natural abundance amongst ourselves that if we all tapped into together,
like, we could all feel very supported. I think through that. I think that what we have
achieved at the least right now, which I feel very happy about, has been creating an environment
where people feel potentially safer to be vulnerable about the needs they have or the
wishes they have. And once you do that you actually meet a community who are really supportive
and receptive.

3 thoughts on “LILY COLE on THE GIFT ECONOMY

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *