“Value” is a slippery concept. People try all sorts of ways to accurately understand and make explicit the financial, social, or cultural “worth” of almost everything we make or find…even our own selves. A stock price is shorthand for the value of a company. GDP is a way to characterize the value of a country. Star ratings are make-or-break for many workers in the gig economy. Even salary is a traditional marker of a person’s ‘value’ in society—flawed as that idea is.
Why are we so obsessed with placing a dollar or status value on everything? Simply put, these markers make complex and abstract concepts malleable. Value metrics are a common language people use to exchange bits and pieces of culture and material that would otherwise be too nebulous to use. It would be hard to understand, buy, or sell pieces of a company without those stock prices to get everyone on the same page!
Historically, a big distinction between the haves and have-nots are who has access to this common language of “value.” Insider trading is just one (illegal) way that this access shows up. Now, technology has enabled many more of us to pull up vast, real-time troves of data about value with a click. Robinhood and other apps let us see prices and trade virtually instantly. We’ve also gotten creative about what can be valued. The digital artist Beeple just sold a non-fungible token (NFT) of a digital file for $69 million, an amount bested among living artists only by Jeff Koons and David Hockney. Even the way we understand “value” is moving into more tangible translations. In a more whimsical example, we see Reddit users like those involved in the GameStop trading frenzy refer to financial gains as “tendies,” translating their abstract gains into how many chicken tenders they can buy with the money.
These trends point toward a shift where value becomes ever-more public, less conceptual, and omnipresent. What does that mean for our daily lives, how we interact with (and yes…judge) others? What new, yet-to-be-imagined opportunities are there for investment?
The future is yet to be shaped—and our team is always thinking about how design and technology can be used (intentionally) to create that future. Below, we’re exploring how value might manifest in our culture, society, and day-to-day interactions.
Today, 36% of Americans check their bank accounts daily. Imagine increased access and aggregation of financial data bringing together a personal financial picture in near-real-time. In the near future you could view your personal ‘stock ticker’—a holistic estimation of your immediate “worth” based on income, expenses, and financial decisions. Watch as your net worth fluctuates throughout the day and within different circumstances. That networking coffee for you and your mentor? Your net worth ticker drops the price of two lattes. And don’t worry about the bill—your meter is synced to the cafe’s -e-commerce system and automatically paid for those drinks. Meanwhile, your home down the street has passively boosted your meter with an uptick in property values—so your value is up for the day after all.
As this personal measurement of value becomes more sophisticated, predictive modelling from your net worth meter will help you understand the larger financial impact of your decisions. You’re out $10 for those lattes in the near term, but your meter understands who you just chatted with—a high-ranking exec with the power to promote. Your meter projects upward career—and financial—momentum based on your meeting.
Later that evening, you have an outdoor drinks date. You really like this person. They really like you, too—especially that upward projection they noticed on your dating profile’s net worth meter. Is that bitter taste from your drink or the momentary worry that they like your wallet more than your personality?
Your date isn’t the only one checking out your stats. Companies see your net worth rising comparative to your age and equate it (accurately or not) with your future growth potential. Expect a message in your inbox soon from a competitor company looking to place their bets on you as a promising new hire. Your meter knows companies are looking—and ticks up. Success becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Time Is Money
Now, imagine a severe storm passing through. A heavy tree branch splinters your wooden fence into a thousand pieces. No-one is injured, so your next thought is, “How do I fix this?” Your device is one step ahead of you, projecting an AR overlay of exactly how much it would cost you in work-hours, based on your salary, to fix it yourself vs. get it fixed by a local contractor—based on current rates for people with a 4-star rating or above. Looks like outsourcing will save you money this time—the system knows you just got a raise and you’ll save the equivalent of 17 work hours if you hire Evergreen Construction to procure the boards, remove the tree, and put up new fencing.
As you go back inside the house, you remember your partner has an important presentation to the board tomorrow. Your device projects new calculations—the value of your time tonight is much lower by comparison. Looks like it’s your turn to do the dishes.
That winter storm hit your town pretty hard. Beyond your fence, neighbors face flooding and the supermarket is dealing with hoarding behaviors. The front-line cashiers and workers at the grocery are in overdrive, providing relief to a disaster-struck community.
Pulling into the parking lot, the projections from your device light up the scene. Grocery store employees’ time is 10x the $15 minimum wage because their value is measured in helpfulness to others. You want to ask where to find more toilet paper, but everyone is assisting other customers who have a higher value of time than you based on their level of need. An employee looks over at your (currently low) value and lets you know you can increase your value by going out to the parking lot to bring in the abandoned carts. 30-minutes of cart-attendance equates to 3 rolls of toilet paper.
In your downtime you’ve been watching TV and Oprah’s interview with Meghan and Harry really shook you. With such racist foundations and outdated practices still occurring at Buckingham palace, you don’t think the English monarchy can survive beyond the current Queen’s rule. You sense an investment opportunity. With Meghan and Harry’s star rising, you want to bet on their ascension to the throne—or at least one of them becoming Prime Minister.
Celebrities, grocery clerks alike are already measured by their net worth ‘value’ publicly—and celebrities are also publicly valued by cultural resonance. Enter Culture Vulture, the app that allows you to access a cultural betting system. The odds of Meghan or Harry attaining high office or the crown in Britain are currently 1:600,000. A high payoff if your instincts are right! You invest $1000 in the power couple’s future. You feel good about the odds because—who knows? (You were right about Kim and Kanye.)
Fast-forward twenty years: changes to the British monarchy aren’t the only shifts happening—and that means even bigger investment opportunities. Rather than investing in people or companies, you’re now investing in entire systems.
Remember when Texas had that terrible freeze back in 2021? You’re so glad you betted on wind energy surpassing natural gas as the largest private energy source by 2035. That shrewd move netted you enough to buy a second home in an area with fewer storms. And your investment in China being the first country to colonize Mars went way beyond stocks! You can’t help but wonder, what investment opportunities in interplanetary infrastructure lie ahead?
As with all cultural and technological emerging patterns, there will be people for whom the changes present opportunity and people for whom changes compound existing structural flaws. These scenarios highlight both the possibility for empowerment and some of the potential pitfalls—financially, socially, and culturally—that lie ahead. Staying ahead of the curve can help all of us as we seek to increase equity, humanize technology, and foster systemic wellbeing in the face of flux.
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