The Quest for Social Currency.
March 10, 2001 4:30 PM   Subscribe

The Quest for Social Currency. The article is a bit old, but the concept is fascinating. For more detailed descriptions, check here and here. With the disintegration of neighborhoods and family units, we social humans must find other ways to connect. We build communities not just to feel good, but for very tangible benefits.
posted by frykitty (12 comments total)
And did I mention it's very relevant to what we do here at MeFi? But you knew that, of course. ;-)
posted by frykitty at 4:32 PM on March 10, 2001

I'm just here for the content. Who the hell are you?
posted by dhartung at 5:24 PM on March 10, 2001

I find it very interesting that as those tangible benefits decrease in value, the social network begins to either branch off into smaller communities or dissolve all together. The concept to me however, explains a good bit of how marketing is done to attract kids and keep them interested; by following their interests closely, and giving them a (branded social) currency. It's really neat how it works on so many levels though other than economics...which can be argued is everything regardless :)
posted by samsara at 6:25 PM on March 10, 2001

I'm just here for the discontent.

With the disintegration of neighborhoods and family units...

We could try going back to family units, y'know. Lack of fathers is a big part of the reason so many kids grow up screwed in the head, especially in inner cities. (At least the mothers tend to stay with their kids.)
posted by aaron at 2:50 AM on March 11, 2001

Oh, by all means, let's have dads around. After all, aspiring school shooters certainly won't be borrowing their suburban soccer moms' firearms for show-and-tell, will they?

And when do these kids start being held responsible for being screwed in the head? Should a lack of father-love exempt them from their duties as citizens? Or should we be, ahem, paternalistic about setting up urban disempowerment zones for the young 'uns?

Yes, on the real side, I'll be really brave and say that fathers are wonderful things (when they're exercising care and attention to be consistent presences and positive influences in their offspring's lives). But single mothers + kids = family units. Maybe they're not the nuclear models some policymakers or self-appointed social theorists may have in mind, but I really don't want to hear them slagged off so cavalierly.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 4:21 AM on March 11, 2001

I'm heartened by the increasing discussion about social capital, its effects, and what can be done to nourish it. The Saguaro Seminar's "Better Together" report (1.6 MB pdf) repeatedly states that unlike other forms of capital, social capital actually grows with repeated use, and that the only way to run out of social capital is through the stagnation of social interaction. Likewise, the strengthening of bonds between people of different backgrounds (social, economic, racial, religious, etc.) contributes more to building social capital than interactions within groups.

As such, there are concrete steps that could be taken by all aspects of community to nurture social capital. Among these are the breaking down of barriers to employment, support of community organizations, the creation and support of neighborhoods that include people of different backgrounds, and supporting families of different forms.

What aaron says is true: children that grow up with both parents are more likely to flourish than those that have but one parent. I don't think that he is advocating keeping parents together at all costs. But likewise, when it becomes necessary for couple to separate, there ought not to be disdain for the single-parent family (and automatic assumptions that all such families are going to the dogs).

Folks like Putnam and others call for the creation of social capital to be a guiding principle of government, businesses, community organizations, churches, and families. There are folks like Brian O'Connell who may disagree with the Cassandraesque concerns about the death of social capital, but O'Connell, by pointing out the importance of volunteerism and philanthropy, recognizes that social bonds are necessary for the health of communities and individuals.

And did I mention it's very relevant to what we do here at MeFi?

Hell yes it is; I think that MeFi is, at its better, non-AYBABTU moments, an excellent example of the benefits of social capital. By welcoming folks of different persuasions, and encouraging member participation, it becomes a microcosm of a well-functioning RL community.
posted by Avogadro at 6:21 AM on March 11, 2001

even at its AYBABTU moments, it's still doing that. did you use AYBABTU to enhance conversation with someone? i sure did. fron what i took from that article, that makes it social currency.
posted by pikachulolita at 1:02 PM on March 11, 2001

(I was just being snarky about AYBABTU; see? more social currency!)
posted by Avogadro at 6:59 PM on March 11, 2001

Yeah...but which one of you is going to watch my house next time I go on vacation? ;-)
posted by frykitty at 7:11 PM on March 11, 2001

Isn't the better question "Who is gonna watch to keep you guys away from my house the next time I go on vacation?"
posted by Dreama at 10:31 PM on March 11, 2001

Dreama: good point.

Seriously tho, and I hate to bring up the "B" word, but it seems to me that the recent funding drive at Blogger was an excellent example of social currency on the web having tangible benefits. That didn't happen because of a product, it happened because of a community.

I've also had web community members become part of my social circle in real life. Prime example is my friend Chris, who turned me on to this whole concept. Met her on the web when she was far away. She's since moved, we're RL friends, and she'd better get her butt over here to pick up these books I'm giving her...

A few years ago this method of building currency would have been unavailable. I have to wonder how many geeks are dependent upon the net to build any currency at all. I'd certainly be more isolated without the RL crossover from my web connections.
posted by frykitty at 10:42 PM on March 11, 2001

This is a response to aaron's thread over here.

We discover that we're required to keep a supply of "social currency" on hand in order to be able to easily get along with others in our peer groups. If you stop paying attention to pop culture, you'll run out of social currency. And then you'll be ostracized for not being hip enough to keep up with the latest cool conversations. Worst of all, we find out that one of the reasons we've come to rely on social currency so much is because so many of our older institutions of inclusion have fallen apart - such as families and neighborhoods where people actually interact with each other - that we're forced to rely more heavily on our peer groups in order to feel connected to society at all.

Aaron, I think that you are misunderstanding what "social currency" means, or at least what Putnam et al are referring to (since Putnam seems to have coined the phrase).

Social currency is merely a shorthand way to talking about "older social institutions... such as families and neighborhoods where people actually interact with each other," not about accumulating credit for how much you know about AYBABTU or any other artifact of popular culture. Knowing what is occurring in the world has a little bit (actually, a very little bit) to do with people interacting with one another, but it by no means is central, and in my opinion, when you pay less attention to what is happening with popular culture and more attention to people around you, you are much. much better connected to your community
posted by Avogadro at 5:08 AM on March 13, 2001

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