There is today a portentous juxtaposition of forces and events that could illuminate a future of decentralised community funding from unlikely sources, and in some cases even sources once thought to be dubious.
Our present moment, a historical cross-roads, is filled with various kinds of uncertainty and fear, not the least of which are related to surprisingly dire economic conditions in the West. Under such conditions, an attitude of ‘ends justify means’ may creep in along with chronic panic; but these symptoms of hard times can also act to temporarily loosen certain prejudices against taboos, including gambling.
Although it can be rather lucrative, Bingo has been considered differently from hard-core casino gambling ¾ perhaps more akin to a lottery. And yet, not all communities feel comfortable allowing bingo halls to operate, even when charities are involved. Nevertheless, as fiscal cuts sink in, many people become willing to jettison non-essential beliefs (that is, their more puritanical ones), to experiment on social policy with necessary pragmatism.
From America to the UK and the EU, local and federal budgets are haemorrhaging vital funds as ‘austerity measures’ hit home. In many instances, even small cuts to social or cultural programs can drain the life blood from them, often beyond healing. For many decades, spanning generations, Bingo nights have shown themselves able to handily generate needed income for churches and civic organizations. Likewise, the removal of bingo earnings (perhaps following a moral argument within a given community) has the same effect as severe budget cuts from official channels.
Rough Going Calls for an Innovative Vehicle
This is also a moment of positive forces, trends that were in motion well before the banking collapses world wide. One such ray of light is the collection of changes upon social organization and capital flows brought about by what scholars of Media call ‘ubiquitous computing’.
We are not yet living with fully ubiquitous or embedded computerization throughout social environments yet. But the smart phones and the WiFi devises we carry around, and an increasing amount of customized, networked electronics in public spaces like malls or entertainment centres, shows us the real cutting edge whilst our postmodern ‘glocal’ society (global/local) becomes a smart new world.
With the ubiquitous computing vision, all surfaces including clothing acquire artificial intelligence and scan our behaviour, in ways we define, in order to influence our immediate environment. The way we choose to interact with this smart environment (hypothetically, switching into ‘social’ mode or otherwise) will conform to our world views at any given instant of our lives. And this interaction could be tapped to generate ‘crowd sourced’ funding for public programs ¾ in principle the same as hosting Bingo nights, but with much greater efficiency and virtually unlimited players.
Environmentalists might point out in opposition to ubiquitous computing that the world of Nature already has the perfect ‘smartness’ of an organic feedback loop amongst all the creatures and fauna and even the weather, as one unified block of intelligence. They even might say that humans, typically, can merely try to steal Nature’s tricks in order to create machines and now electronics that comprise an un-natural world, one under human control.
But the practical reason to consider ubiquitous computing and ‘augmented reality’ as promising developments has to do with the fact that something like a smart phone opens up vast new ways for people to congregate in the physical world, and very importantly, to handle and exchange money.
Spending and receiving money has become forever changed by new media like social networking, PayPal, online micro-finance organizations, virtual currencies and even by online gambling. Nowadays most capital in circulation functions primarily as a virtual (electronic) resource rather than as paper money.
The new principle is simple: the Web is actually an powerful tool not only for sharing information but also for giving, receiving and mobilizing public money.
For example, campaign finance utilizing the Internet to receive numerous micro-donations rather than a few big gifts from corporations that then expect pay-backs shows the palpable relation between ICT (information and communication technology) and socio-political reform. Many other kinds of alternative capital flows organized online by businesses or local communities are coming to bear upon civic agendas. These new financial tools are changing how governments or institutions allocate funding (not to mention how they are held accountable for spending their funds).
The common element amidst economic hard times, ICT, alternative financial systems and Bingo is completely human and psychological: societies have two options with respect to taboos.
First, the option of feeling scandalized by the way other people cope with the Human Condition, which sometimes includes things called ‘vices’, like gambling. Second, societies can consciously opt to fully encounter any taboo or vice as a social fact, and on this basis manage it. Proper management obviously produces monetary benefits such as the taxation of very popular pastimes with significant revenues.
This has been the strategy of the Dutch, and as far as managing gambling, prostitution and soft drugs goes, the Dutch model has been very successful. It also produces a society based upon tolerance, in which everyone realizes how the management of vices (ironically!) produces public wealth that enriches society to a degree far greater than the supposed burden of tolerating marginal behaviours.
Online gambling and online bingo carry the added advantage that allowing them does not impact social space, since people enjoy their games in private. There is no danger of more Las Vegases springing up. Although, Las Vegas is a good example of a physical place where the management of gambling produced funding that was used to create one of America’s best public school systems. There are other communities where fire departments and local charity groups balanced budget deficits by incorporating Bingo halls.
And this is the bottom line we have been approaching: as soon as the decentralised financial capabilities of the Web are fully comprehended and the public achieves overwhelming demand for forms of entertainment like online Bingo, a new era of abundant public funding may well begin. There is no reason that the sensible management of small-scale Bingo in local communities, or lotteries in big cities, cannot be adopted for ‘glocal’ online gambling. Fortunately, online Bingo promises dramatic increases in profitability over physical Bingo halls, with minimal impact on existing physical infrastructures.