So here I am making another public admission. And it almost seems to verge on neurotic, but I have the feeling I am far from alone.
On one hand, I love the idea of supporting friends who make things and who provide useful services. I love the idea of buying local instead of sticking with the large corporations. I have friends who teach skills that I would love to learn. I love the ideas of local barter networks and skill exchanges.
I know that these casual economy exchanges can be so much more cost effective and fulfilling than always going to the formal, mass-market solution. I also know that these kind of exchanges can open opportunities for myself to make income outside of a traditional job. Friends have said since I am an experienced (though non-professional) vegan cook, I should teach cooking classes or make dinner for people in my home.
But the truth is, I have no idea how to make any of those kind of exchanges work, even on the most obvious, rudimentary level. I have had friends who are licensed massage therapists who do work from their home who just stop communicating with me when I try to set up a time for a massage. I have friends who make custom clothing who I would like to commission a piece from, but I don’t even know how to start the conversation. I’ve offered to show friends how to do vegan baking at my home for free on social media, but no one has ever shown even the slightest interest, so it’s hard for me to conceive of how people would pay me to teach them some of my skills.
Part of it is that it’s hard to figure out the logistics of how to communicate with people about this. When personal and business time are not clearly delineated, when do you reach out to ask people about this kind of thing? I’ve always had a job where I’m either “on the clock” or designated as “on call”, but my availability for work-related matters is always clearly defined, so I am not entirely sure how to figure out that question. Of course email should make this easier than a phone call, but it’s still not always clear. In fact, I am the kind of person (and of a generation) who, if I want to call, I usually email or text them first to ask if it’s a good time.
And I think I still very much have the idea ingrained in me that “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it”. I feel like I’m wasting people’s time to even ask about something that I’m not in a financial position to buy. But, of course, the casual economy doesn’t come with price tags.
In a related attitude, I don’t trust things that are up for negotiation. If the price is different for everyone, how do I know that I’m not getting a bad deal because of some kind of bias – against strangers, against queer people, against people who aren’t knowledgeable, against those who look like they have money? Or the uncomfortable possibility that because I’m getting a better deal by being white or being a man.
I realize a lot of this is about my background as a middle class American. I am a child of food coming from grocery stores and restaurants that have prices on the menu. The internet has been available for most of my adult life, which took the old system of the yellow pages and ads in the newspaper to a new level. Now I can go onto a company website and see what a product or service might cost. 95% of my questions can be answered without even talking to a person.
I didn’t grow up in a culture where you trade with your neighbors. Helping relationships didn’t go much beyond buying pizza for friends in college when you asked them to help you move.
So yes, I feel like a have a huge hurdle to get over when it comes to making my life better through the casual, non-corporate economy. I think that it doesn’t help that most of the people around me are not much better off when it comes to these skills. I really feel like we all need to figure this one out together and shift our culture around to help ourselves and one another more effectively.