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