Time is Money

Released in 2011, the Justin Timberlake film, In Time, was mediocre at best. Set in 2169, it painted a grim future, where the rich are virtually immortal, as time became money, literally. In the best tradition of science fiction, this film exaggerated an idea that will likely turn into mundane reality of tomorrow and made it seem suspenseful and apocalyptic.

Yet In Time’s premise is both simple and radical: the future unit of exchange is not a dollar or Bitcoin. It is a minute of human life. Before we laugh off this idea, let us first acknowledge how ridiculous gold coins might have appeared to Stone Age tribe or our trust in pieces of paper, the banknotes, to a medieval merchant?

All prior currencies could be amassed, but human time – at least right now – is roughly bounded and equally distributed. Sure, some variation exists, but there is no order of magnitude disparity.   

With the life expectancy of 72, every person born today is endowed with roughly 38 million minutes, which we expend as we please – living our lives.  What we don’t yet do is trade our time for goods and services – say, showing up at an ice-cream shop and offering 175 minutes for a sundae.  That is to say, we couldn’t do it until June 1st this year, when a new social network, called Nimses, was launched

A number of vendors in Kyiv, Ukraine – Nimses’ home base – will happily sell a cup of coffee or a slice of pizza for your Nims – the currency of the Social Network.  Each minute of the person’s life turns into a single nim, a unique indestructible digital recording unit.Nimses website explains.

Before we dismiss it as a fad or a niche social network for the outcasts, we must acknowledge the viral growth of this startup, which signed up nearly 4M users in the first two months of its existence.  This happened even before it launched in the U.S. and Western Europe.   

To most of us – born in the last century – the notion of time as the unit of exchange, time as actual money is either inconceivable, offensive or all of the above. But here too, before we cry wolf and demand that the network be shut down on the grounds of morality or breach of privacy, we must examine today’s reality. 

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Our Future Unit of Exchange

CPM isn’t a commonly used term, but it would sound quite familiar to marketing professionals – it stands for cost per thousand impressions.”  Every minute we spend on a social network, every minute we spend on the Internet generates impressions, which are then monetized by the Facebooks and Googles of this world.  Virtual and physical worlds have already merged and inseparable when it comes to online advertising. A coffee shop or a florist around the corner is willing to spend hard-earned real-world cash for web impressions.  Digital presence is now a basic expectation for business large and small.

Facebook has generated $27.6B in 2016, and John Thornhill quite cleverly argued in his op-ed for Financial Times that the social media behemoth should pay everyone a basic income.  He explained that “the most valuable asset that Facebook possesses is the data that its users, often unwittingly, hand over for free before they are in effect sold to advertisers. It seems only fair that Facebook makes a bigger social contribution for profiting from this massively valuable, collectively generated resource.” Mr. Thornhill believes that other data-driven business such as Google, Apple, and Amazon, could also contribute.

As strange as the logic of Nimses may seem, we already convert time into dollars via intermediaries, and this startup is offering a sort of a shortcut.  The users get better control of their time, or is it their data, or is there a difference?  And vendors accept Nims as a legitimate payment. 

Should its viral growth continue, this groundbreaking social network is set to disrupt Wall Street as much as Facebook and Federal Reserve as much as Google.  Whether or not this specific company is successful is beside the point. An introduction of this concept opens the Pandora’s box of post-monetary system of trade – a system of human relationships where currency is time. 

Perhaps, this offers us a sneak preview into the post-economic societal organization. If humanity’s future is indeed workless, and we move into the age of abundance, it is only fitting that we start pondering the question of what our future unit of exchange will be. 

Evolutionary psychology postulates that we are hardwired to think about social status, to know where we stand vis-à-vis our peers.  Financial success was a useful measuring stick to appraise one’s status ever since the invention of money. 

When you click ‘like’ on Instagram, when you pay for a cappuccino at Starbucks, or you retweet a link, how does that make you feel?  The unit of exchange not withstanding, we use resources at our disposal to endorse and recognize what we value in this world, be it physical or virtual content.  In the world of digital-natives, the social ranking is measured in followers and ‘likes,’ and the money that comes with the online celebrity status is often an afterthought.

“The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed,” William Gibson famously said. And, perhaps, the early adopters of Nimses are experiencing it already, while the rest of us are obsessing with mortgage payments and savings for retirement.  When the Rockefeller brothers were drilling for ‘black gold’, they could have hardly anticipated that data will be proclaimed the ‘new oil’ in the early XXI century.  Is it conceivable that the post-data world will run on time?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Futurism or its affiliates.

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