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And then we were 50

February 8, 2012
by anna moschovakis

I’ve got a Google Alert set up for “time bank,” and judging from the near-daily results (even without the local-news stories about bank heists), there is a gathering momentum for time banking that shows no sign of letting up. We have been invited to panels and conferences, asked for interviews, and had our advice solicited by people hoping to start their own time banks. And we’ve only been around a couple of months.

Today, we have 50 members. Exchanges have been made—from fixing jewelry to sewing curtains to building roofs to advising farmers—but activity isn’t exactly hopping. Last week, we joined (via video chat) a conference in Brooklyn about alternative economies, which included representatives from several New York City time banks. Much of interest was discussed, but two things in particular seemed worth sharing here:

— The time banks that have survived decades do so because the members understand that it’s not about the accounting. Carrying debt in a time bank isn’t irresponsible—it’s a way of participating, and it’s actually encouraged.

— The time banking software is meant to be an aid to communication between members, but it can be cumbersome. The point is to communicate in whatever way is easiest, and time banks that succeed encourage multiple forms of communication (we’ve got some ideas about how to improve this in CT and will be sending out a missive to members shortly).

— Time banking is not in conflict with (or trying to substitute for) any other kind of friendly barter or mutual aid. It’s a supplement to those practices, and its greatest benefit is that it provides access to people you don’t already know. Yes, time banking can be a great way to compensate a friend for a big favor you would otherwise feel uncomfortable accepting, but it’s also a way to request help from someone with whom you don’t already have that kind of mutual-aid relationship. So don’t think of time banking as a replacement for exchanges that are already working in your life. Think of it as a way to vastly widen your options for labor exchange.

If Catskills Time ends up becoming obsolete because all the members find ways to get their needs met through less-formal barter and labor-swapping, great! It will have done its job in creating a community that supports itself. For now, and until we’ve achieved that utopian goal, time banking can help facilitate the forming of those bonds.

We’re close to scheduling February’s Potluck—stay tuned until then!