Timebanking: An Old Idea Poised for Renewed Life

Timebanking, or the idea of communities of people sharing their skills in reciprocal relationships based on the time they take, is not a new idea. The idea can be traced back to 1827 when a man named Josiah Warren founded the Cincinnati Time Store, a cooperative where people could trade labor, denominated in hours, for goods. The concept has grown and morphed into its current format where members trade services – I do your gardening and you do Bob’s taxes while Bob walks my dog – based on hours contributed into and then withdrawn from the timebank.

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While timebanking has mostly been successful in certain countries or small community pockets, the concept is drawing new attention from researchers including the NSF. What’s behind this new interest is a convergence of two trends: timebanks are often more successful during times of economic downturn when participants have more time than money, and computer technology, specifically mobile application technology, can enable more effective tracking and assignment of tasks that can be traded within a timebank.

PARC’s Dr. Victoria Bellotti is looking at methods for developers to support the growth of timebanking, but she’s also identifying some of the challenges such as the engagement of timebank members who don’t have computer access whatsoever, let alone a smartphone.

Recently, Victoria presented “Random Acts of Kindness: The Future of Digital Altruism, Community Collaboration, and Timebanks,” providing a detailed look into the history of timebanking and what her initial research is uncovering. You can view her complete presentation, part of the PARC Forum presentation series, on our YouTube channel and below.



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