The Streets of San Diego: What we learned about Money

On Friday, January 11th, we “put our money where our mouth is” by roving the streets of San Diego. Our objective was to capture perspectives from people we randomly stopped by asking them the simple (yet nuanced) question:

What Is Money?

As you might imagine, the responses we received from interviewing a dozen or so people were quite striking.

In reviewing the full footage (only 2 minutes of which is reflected in the above video), we found 6 emerging themes we’ve outlined below:

#1: Literal Definition (i.e. Currency)

A number of the people we interviewed offered a very literal, oversimplified definition of money, almost robotically relaying the definition of money. Among the answers we heard:

“greenbacks in my wallet”

“paper and money that society has decided to use as currency”

“legal tender to pay for goods and services”

From this, we have concluded that society tends to oversimplify many things, including the concept of money. We feel that these people are perhaps surrendering to the simplest perception of money because they’re afraid to explore what it really means to them.

#2: Perception of “Good vs Bad” in its usage

These respondents seem to suggest that money can be used either positively or negatively. Responses included:

“for some people it’s health, some people it’s greed”

“Sometimes it’s good, right?”

We see these responses as another play on the oversimplification of money as they tend to view money linearly. In other words, the usage of money from their vantage points fall on two opposite ends of the spectrum, either good or for bad.

#3: “It’s Everything”

The implication here is that money embodies a “whole life” perspective controlling the world that we live in. One of the responses we heard captures this:

“Life, couldn’t live without it, it’s our life source.” This from a young man who had traveled to California with $150 to his name

#4: “It’s Bad” as in greed

These folks had a very negative, borderline evil view of money. Some of the answers we heard were:

“necessary evil”

“trouble” (our personal favorite)

“money is power”

What we walked away with here is the perception of how money can be so polarizing. Viewing money simply bad means that there is a much deeper, psychological function at play here tied to why these people are so adamantly against/hate money, and why they view it as a means to a bad end.

#5: Good (i.e. Freedom)

These respondents viewed money as a means to an end to something positive, like security, time, and allowing you to do what you like to do. What we heard were comments like:

“security for my family”

“enables you to have free time so you can surf, skate, and do whatever you like”

“satisfy a desire that you have

These perceptions about money insinuate that it’s a means to a positive end, and a tool to get what you want in life.

#6: Theoretical (i.e. abstract)

Finally, there were a few people who offered very abstract/vague perceptions of money. These answers included money being:

“a fictional representation of the work that we’ve done”

“form of energy”

“something that someone created in order to put a value on things”

The abstract nature of this perception offers many levels of analysis. These are some of the more interesting responses because it reflects a deeper look into the psyche and emotions of people around money through these high-level analogies.

As we continue our exploration in the psychology of money, we’ll keep our eye on these and other emerging themes as well deeper themes within these categories. We invite you to chart our progress by FOLLOWING US here on Medium for regular updates.