TB: One of your last projects is the P2P Gift Credit Card. What is the financial model that you suggest and in which way may it metaphorically constitute an alternative?
Paolo Cirio: I do not consider Gift Finance to be a kind of business, which usually has to do with private interests, but more an alternative economy of public interest. The project was born from the idea of universal Basic Income directly regulated by the networks of relationships that link people together at local and global level. Universal Basic Income means that every human being has the right to have money in order to survive on this planet. A possible system proofed by reliable calculations, not just since the present technological progress makes potentially possible to feed everyone on the planet or if the money deposited in the tax havens was redistributed, we could give dignity to half populations of the world. In reality, the main point is the immorality of the creation of money itself, regulated by banks and by the State to preserve the social control. We never want to believe that money can become an abundant good for everyone, but actually this is possible and history, even if rarely, has proved it.
Since most of the money in circulation has assumed a digital form, so it is virtual, money conceptions themselves and the tools to use it or eventually to create it have been redefined. The recent economic crisis, leaving its internal contradictions aside, as a matter of fact was started by software capable of complex calculations, interconnecting investors, funds, loans and debts in a speculative vortex. Such tools for simplifying monetary data management increased exponentially the number of financial operations and operators.
A context in which money is issued without any logic of value and in which financial institutions have the legal permission to create "virtual" money very easily, by granting loans, which exceed the "real" money that they have in their deposits, this just by few mouse clicks, is created. This kind of creation of money is called Fractional Reserve Banking. After having spent more than a year studying critical finance, I noticed that the majority of the analysis indicates that banks are the main creators of money through this financial tool called Fractional Reserve Banking, which is legally permitted for boosting the whole economy, but it's actually managed for private interests, since only financial institutions can legally use it.
The P2P Gift Credit Cards were created to democratize the money issuing power, which is monopolized by bank giants and by now in small part by the state. The economic model Gift Finance uses already developed infrastructures, as the credit cards capillary circuits, the technology for wiring money through univocal codes, and financial tools such as the Fractional Reserve Banking, without extra interest on the credit emitted.
So, everyone must have the right to lend money, which he/she doesn't have, just like banks are allowed to do, in order to stimulate the general economy. It can look like an utopic artistic vision, but if you take a closer look at it actually it can carry out positive outcomes, like the Gift Economy has often proved. With the Gift Finance, economy is democratically stimulated by the people, instead of by private financial institutions, which on top of that revealed themselves to be incompetent and were rescued by bailouts of public money which, instead, seems to be "mysteriously" lacking.
The P2P Gift Credit Cards are introduced to the public with a language familiar to the target, attractive graphics and marketing, to tempt and attract the target and then introduce critical finance matters. The credit card industry in UK and in the U.S. is completely deregulated, the most common victims are students and low-income workers, social classes always more in difficulty. The project, instead of sabotaging the current credit card system, tries to subvert it using the existing infrastructures in a better way. The P2P Gift Credit Cards may start to be properly used widely for monetary trade when the number of people who joined the project will reach a critical mass. Money is just a symbolic means accepted collectively, so it's just about how many people literally believe in the same mean of trade.
Recently some new media theorists supposed to revitalize the economy with new digital currencies created by the grassroot movements. However, nobody thinks about who will be eventually in charge to issue this new currencies, who will therefore be responsible of the amount of money in new alternative markets. In the meantime big networks, just like Facebook, are planning the introduction a new internal virtual currency. So the future of money still has to start and it will change many things. In the meantime, the credit cards circuits monopolize the technology of electronic payments at a global level, VISA and MasterCard faced already several antitrust suits, but they still dominate also through lobbying constantly.
Money has become pure information so it is an easily manipulable and reproducible abstract material, which floats in a global network always more connected and spread. The money perception has changed as well: what attracted the human eye the most were bills, now to stimulate the parts of the brain linked to greed it only takes seeing numbers on a monitor.
TB: The themes of exchange, gift economy, and participation are fundamental nowadays to critically rethink the use of networking technologies and to imagine possible alternative to neoliberalism. At the same time, today the social media economy is deeply based on the concept of exchange of free gifts and many profits come from user-generated contents. Do you think that imagining a Gift Finance System based on Peer2Peer networks could go beyond the dialectic participation vs. exploitation?
Paolo Cirio: Yes, I think about Peer-to-Peer as an enormous potential social progress. The decentralization of resources is a model applicable and revolutionary to different fields, such as the energetic, urbanistic, and food supply, etc. Peer-to-Peer means from the farmer to the consumer, from the solar panels to the refrigerator, etc., and of course also, concerning information, and financial management.
If I could dare a comparison with historic ideologies, I could say that the network distributed from Person to Person, can constitute a potential new form of political civilization. Communism as much as capitalism, are not a democratic systems, both are based on the decision-making power concentration in the hands of a few people, pinpointed in the State hierarchy in the case of the communism or in the big corporations and banks in the case of neoliberism.
A well-informed population could manage itself with a direct and participative democracy through the use of free and independent networks. We went through a revolution with the introduction of digital technology, leaving the analog one behind. Now we are living a new phase, maybe even more important, which is the widespread of devices constantly online and with them the sharing of our data of our existences, which became deeply affected by digital networks.
However, you do not have to think of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, as Peer-to-Peer networks, it is the very opposite, actually: the concentration of all the personal data and contents in the hands of few, does not constitute an example of decentralized network for sure. With the increasing number of people connected, power conglomerates were created to monopolize resources and market demand, just like in many other globalized industrial sectors dominated by big monopoles, and in which the alternatives are banned, even if they are technically and socially better. In this case I have the impression that they want to extinguish the Peer-to-Peer technology, just like it happened when the oil cartels suppressed alternative fuel vehicles and goods without crude oil's derivates.
TB: Both the Face to Facebook and the P2P Gift Credit Cards projects imply a process of data collection. In the first case, it is about 250.000 profiles catalogued on the basis of the facial expression, but maybe, the true resource is the additional data catalogued by you after the user's reaction (reported in your press release dated February 10); in the second case, the spreading of Gift Cards allows to generate economy thanks to the involvement of its own network, through a virtual mailing system. In both cases, the projects allow to have access to unreleased and important data, coming directly from the back-end functions of the systems. Are you planning to use such a stored data in a conscious and "tactical" way? Maybe thinking about a second phase of the two projects...
Paolo Cirio: Like you say, it is not much the quantity of data that matters, but the relations which correlate information together and creates its sense. With the Facebook project as well, I could ascertain this equation: looking at a million of faces of people, I feel a terrible feeling of void, as if all of those individual lives, in the mass, blurred into something shapeless and valueless. There is an information surplus: we do not live with censorship anymore, this for sure, but what was obscured by the lack, is now made it confusing by a controlled structuring of information, relating information to alter its meaning or possibly to nullify it. This became possible in the networks as well, those who should have theoretically set us free from the mass media power. There are tactics and strategies in order to relate information for interests of a few or of everyone, and I believe this dispute will last long.
In any case, not all information is relevant, if it is not used in the best way possible. For example, with pictures of a million of people on the hard disk, new ideas of how to reuse them constantly come up to my mind, being it such an interesting material, but I also think I took the best out of them. Same thing for credit cards: there is more than one thousand of people with issued P2P Gift Credit Cards numbers, but the aim was not to collect and create new data, I just used the available and attractive means as a medium to suggest an alternative economic model, so making art with social functions.
In the future I will concentrate always more on new ways and tools to model information and to explore the connected social, political and aesthetic consequences.