The Compliments Wallet

Aaron Howes
3 min readApr 21, 2021

Compliments, so they say, are free. But how much are they worth? Being “free” does not diminish their value. A compliment’s value cannot be determined by the compliment giver. Before it is given, it cannot even be determined by the receiver. The value of a compliment, while never linked to any form of currency, fluctuates over time — worthless if forgotten but potentially invaluable if remembered during a time of personal crisis. One of my favourite writers, Craig Mod, saves compliments from his fans for precisely this purpose: “I collect these snippets in a big text file because — honestly — there are days where I wonder what the hell I’m doing, and this text file is like pure manna, and I dip in on occasion to buoy a sinking spirit.”

Inspired by Axel’s lecture on value constellations and Mod’s text file, I began to wonder if we could store compliments in a digital wallet or bank, ready to be temporarily withdrawn during moments of self-doubt, pride or even smugness. This was a slight aside from our group work but also a potential city intervention I think is relevant to our work around empathy.

In this value constellation, one compliment might be compared to a single crypto-coin or a non-fungible token, except its value could not be tracked on a graph or form some new economic bubble. One couldn’t be printed or mined, only generated by human generosity and thoughtfulness. And only the receiver/s of a compliment could ever determine its worth. Within the value constellation, the compliment receiver would, obviously, receive value from the compliment. But the compliment giver would also derive value from the exchange, storing the compliments they bestowed upon others in their own wallet — a history of kindness transactions, so to speak.

The effect could be similar to that described by Chris Speed and Deborah Maxwell in their bicycle project: “The team speculated that such a move fostered a virtuous dimension that would build a value proposition between people who were rewarded for picking up the bike, namely passers-by who would compete to receive thanks; the city council, who would benefit from a better use of street space; and manufacturers of bikes that contain the speaking sensor, who could advertise that more care would be paid to their bikes.” Rather than picking up bikes, people are encouraged and rewarded for being more complimentary and therefore more compliments are given, we might see how “actions, behaviour, and incentives could create virtuous markets of interaction.”

Or, we might see people feeling pressured to compliment their friends like they feel pressured to “Like” their pictures on social media. We might see simply gratuitous compliment-giving. People could end up not knowing whether compliments are real. Rather than increase in value, compliments could lose all value. What if one person’s definition of a compliment doesn’t align with another person’s? We could see more catcalling-like harassment, as if some men need any more encouragement.

Time constrained, this isn’t an idea I got to explore in much more detail. If I’d had this idea earlier in the term and it had piqued the interest of the group, it’s interesting to consider how our group work may have been different. Nonetheless, I wanted to include it in my workbook as a point of personal interest and brief homage to Axel’s lecture which I really enjoyed.

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