Mobile phone company Vodafone gets inspired by traditional Kula exchange system
Every year, the people of the Trobriand Islands in the Solomon Sea off Papua New Guinea exchange ornamental seashell armbands and necklaces. It is a social ritual that according to Malinowski cements social bonds between fishing communities. Strange as it may seem, this tradition has inspired a recent new service from communications company Vodafone.
Anthropologist Richard Harper has been working for Vodafone in the UK since 2003, where he has adapted kula-style gift-giving rules to encourage social bonding among groups of people in phone-texting networks. Under his guidance, Vodafone has launched its Postcard service. You send an MMS picture-and-text message to Vodafone, who will print it as a postcard and mail it to whomever you want. Like the islanders' gifts, Vodafone's postcards are permanent - unlike text messages.
The idea is that the recipient will then want to send a postcard of their own, perhaps to a third party, and so draw more subscribers into the network. Exchanging more valuable artefacts, such as music or video files, may be next. >> continue
(link via Purse Lip Square)
>> Critical comment by anthropologist Alex Golub: "Contemporary america’s obsession with the idea of selfless giving has once more led it to misappropriate anthropological theories of reciprocity and distort some well-known ethnographic facts."