DCTC Student Harness the Power of a Paper Clip

In a world where eBay and yard sales are commonly frequented marketplaces, the idea of one man’s junk being another man’s treasure is one that is quite applicable to our culture. The question is, how far are people willing to go to get their treasure?

Inspired by a recent news story, Seth Smith, an Interpersonal Communications adjunct faculty member at Dakota County Technical College, decided to put his class to work in testing that exact question.

During April, a news story broke concerning a 26-year-old man named Kyle MacDonald. Last July, MacDonald began with a paper clip, an Internet blog and the goal of trading until he got a house. Harnessing the power of the trading game and the Web, MacDonald was able to exchange the paper clip for a fish pen, and continued the trading process. By April, he had traded a year rent-free in a house in Phoenix for an afternoon with Alice Cooper and gained national attention.

After learning of MacDonald’s story, Smith decided to make it part of his lesson plan. He divided his students into five groups and gave each group a paperclip, challenging them to see how far they could make the trading go in just one hour on the Dakota County Technical College campus.

By the end of the hour, the five paper clips had been traded to a bottle of wine, two stuffed monkeys, a floral arrangement, a box of drafting lead and a brand new urine evacuation kit – a significant value increase for only an hour of trading.

“I think that my students found that the power of persuasion was particularly useful leverage in the early trades. The smaller items were much easier to upgrade because people wanted to help and could easily come up with items of similar value. But it got much harder when the students got to the point of having items that had a greater value,” said Smith.

While Smith and his students will probably not continue their experiment in the trading game to go from a paper clip to a house, they now know that it is at least possible and that communication in today’s world is a powerful tool, especially with the Web.

“When we talked about this, I think that we all questioned the feasibility of it. But if we can take it as far as we did in an hour, limited to our campus, it definitely opens up the possibilities of what one could do with more time and the entire globe to work with,” said Smith.