Imagine if you could pay your next restaurant bill with time instead of money. At Time/Food, this scenario takes place at each meal: this temporary restaurant offers daily lunches where the only currency accepted is a half “hour note”, or 30 minutes of each diner’s time. Based on the fixed-price comida corridas of Mexico, the outpost is organized by Time/Bank, a New York based platform where people can exchange skills through units of time.
Though this particular time bank was launched last year, the idea has been around for a while. Drawing from age-old bartering systems, its origins can be traced back to the Cincinnati Time Store, run by American anarchist Josiah Warren in the early 1800s, as well as the notgeld emergency money that was used in Germany during World War I. A solution to the nation’s runaway inflation, the alternative financial system was stabilizing because it was pegged to skills yielding material goods (gold, corn, meat, etc.). Interestingly, the currency itself was purposefully designed to be quite beautiful, with the hopes that people would want to collect the bills and the debt would never have to be paid.
At present, time banking and service exchange have since developed into a full-fledged movement, usually centered around local communities. According to The New York Times, more than 300 time banks currently exist in 23 countries. The alternative approach is especially appropriate for periods of economic distress, as experienced by many developed countries today: it is a way for un- and underemployed people to get what they need, without going through beleaguered institutionalized markets. Based on the premise that everyone has 24 hours in the day and something to contribute, the idea of time banking is also a refreshingly equalizing system, an innovative means of connecting existing needs with unacknowledged resources.