It's gift-giving season. Wondering what to get for your family, your friends, or your inner child? You're in luck. Just send them a link to this article and they'll be set up with loads of free stuff - indefinitely.
It's gift-giving season, and that presents a conundrum. On the one hand, gift-giving is an ancient pleasure. It's rooted in our deepest instincts as social animals. Before there was money, long before people talked about something called "the economy," people lived in economic systems based on reciprocal gift-giving.
On the other hand, every year during the holiday season, we buy a lot of stuff that no-one really needs, powering the great global consumer machine that produces vast amounts of carbon pollution, trash, and environmental degradation.
"Pathological consumption has become so normalised that we scarcely notice it," British essayist George Monbiot wrote a couple of weeks ago in "The Gift of Death," a screed against holiday-season consumerism. "For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations."
Today, right here in this article, you'll get a gift that will empower you to largely solve this conundrum. It's a gift you can both receive and keep, yet give away.
You'll be able to give huge quantities of stuff to all your friends and kin, and indeed to yourself, without having to spend a dime, and it'll have only a very modest environmental impact.
Germany's Christmas markets, set up in public squares like the one in Berlin's posh Gendarmenmarkt, are popular places to get tschotschkes and comestibles this time of year
Embedded at the bottom of this page is a link to a website composed of a curated list of sites that give away various categories of high-quality free digital stuff.
What kind of free e-stuff?
Free movies, documentaries, music and books. Excellent free courses, tutorials and lessons on just about any subject - guitar playing, language learning, computer programming, maths, and hundreds of other skills or subjects. Free apps, fonts, software, UI designs, noise generators, publishing platforms and stock photos. Free meditation aids and self-help guides. Free music scores.
Free stuff that people can actually use, all of it digital and online-accessible or downloadable.
Before we get to the goodies - to opening our presents, as it were - let's take a closer look at why people give gifts at all, as a way to build up our anticipation and help us appreciate all that free swag we're about to receive.
When an aboriginal Haida or Salish fisherman from what is now the west coast of Canada caught more salmon than he needed, he gave some away to neighbors. Later, when the fisherman needed a new hat, he might mention to his neighbor that her mate's cedar-bark woven hats looked beautiful and compliment her excellent weaving skills. She would take the hint and weave him a hat.
This wasn't quite barter, because much of the time, the deals were not explicit A-for-B trades. Instead, it was a system of mutual aid, or reciprocal gift-giving, between members of a tribe or band who knew each other well. Individuals acquired a reputation for generosity or stinginess over time, and were treated accordingly. What goes around comes around.
Winter Solstice time is supposed to be snowy and snug, but this year it's unseasonably warm in Germany, with nary a hint of snow
Similar practices were carried out by nearly all pre-modern tribal peoples. For example, pioneering anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski reported on the gift-giving practices of Melanian Pacific islanders in his 1922 book "Argonauts of the Western Pacific." The islanders didn't use money, but they had a sophisticated system of mutual obligations that depended on the nature of one's relationships.
Gardening obligations were attached to matrilineal kin; boys would garden for their mothers or aunts. Communal labor obligations were attached to wider networks: for example, twenty or thirty men would join together in a big group to build canoes for chiefs, with attendant feasts.
A canoe could also be built by two men, Malinowski observed, but by doing the work in a large group, the job got done much more quickly, and the bonds of community were strengthened as well. Communal work had the flavor of a party as much as that of a duty. It was more fun.
The islanders also had special rules for gift-giving small luxuries.
"Everyone who possesses betel-nut or tobacco in excess of what he can actually consume on the spot, would be expected to give it away," Malinowski wrote, noting that this special rule, "which also happens to apply to such articles as are generally used by white men for trade," had misled some observers to attribute a communistic ethos to these aboriginals.
"In fact," Malinowski wrote, "many a man will carefully conceal any surplus so as to avoid the obligation of sharing it and yet escape the opprobrium attaching to meanness."
Yuletide echoes of pre-market times
Reciprocal gift-giving and socially assigned obligations to perform services for one's kin, close friends, or village chiefs were the basis of most pre-modern cultures. They pre-dated markets and money, and worked well for uncounted millennia.
When we come together to exchange gifts and feast with kin and close friends at the time of the northern Winter Solstice - or, in the southern hemisphere, the time of the Summer Solstice - we're echoing ancient practices of reciprocal gift-giving that formed the central basis for human solidarity and survival during the bulk of the time our species has existed in this world.
With the Open Source software movement, and similarly inspired sharing-economy phenomena such as couchsurfing or freecycling, perhaps some flickers of a renewed gift-giving culture are stirring in the embers at the periphery of the raging market-economy bonfire that has monetized nearly everything and largely burned away reciprocal gift-giving as the meat and potatoes of economic interaction.
So, happy holidays. Here's an enormous cornucopia of gifts for you, and by extension your friends and kin. Someone else compiled it, and it's costing me next to nothing to give it to you, but don't make the mistake of thinking the resources linked here aren't worth much.