The Changed Nature of Money: From Gold to Digital

What is money? In the Middle Ages and before, money was a physical entity. Something you either had in your pockets, or not. Whether it was cows or gold, it was something you could touch, something of which you knew it couldn’t just be created “from thin air”. Although gold coins could be made by the government, the government still needed gold to make the coins. And since getting gold wasn’t easy, you could trust that the amount of money in a society – whose value was based on the amount of gold being in circulation – wouldn’t fluctuate that much. You had certainty, just like you could be certain that the tree in your backyard couldn’t grow new apples every day. It was a gradual, natural process. And this was a calming thought, ensuring you that the value of your money would be rather stable of time.

But now – a couple of centuries later – we’ve got the internet, and everything has changed. Money no longer is gold, but is replaced by a string of digital numbers on your computer. We no longer pay the butcher by handing him over a few tangible units of gold, but we put our plastic card into a digital machine and our digital string of numbers gets digitally reduced. The comfort that this brought us is enormous. We don’t even have to carry gold around anymore.

But although the “digital era” brought us many comforts, it also brought uncertainty – and vulnerability – into our lives. Because who ensures us that the amount of digital money that is in circulation will be a stable amount of money over time? Who ensures us that, whenever the government feels it’s losing in popularity, it cannot just put an extra zero-digit behind the digital number on its bank account? Who ensures us that – like cows and gold – the value of money is based on stable, natural entities that cannot be created from thin air, and not merely upon our perception of the value of money, which is an entity susceptible to the whims of those with monetary power? In other words: who guarantees the value of our money? Who besides ourselves, besides our perception of money? And if the value of money is merely dependent upon our perception of it, then how easily can this perception – and thus the value of our money – be adjusted by means of external intervention? How much certainty do we have regarding the value of our future money?

Because what is the value of money if we can just hand over an 8-digit number to Greece, knowing that it will never come back, and not even worrying about it never combing back because we know we can create more money whenever we want to. Who can ensure us that the money we’re working for is really worth the value we expect it to be worth over time? What is the value of money if new money can just be printed over and over again? Or even worse, when it requires nothing but the adding of an extra digit in the server space of the government. Is that still money? Or is it a 21th century substitute for money, created as a logical consequence of our fetish with digital technology and its “benefits”?

Let’s stay realistic. One thing we can reasonably say is that money – instead of possessions like gold and cows – has become more of a means for exchanging rights and less of a means for exchanging property. Rights of obligation, rights of someone to do something for another person in change for an increase in that someone’s right to legitimately claim something from others. I know it sounds abstract, but that is because it is abstract. The non-abstract gold- and cow time is over. Mutual obligations are all that remains. A problem? Maybe. A change? Definitely.

But what do you think?

The Dysfunctional Nature of the Internet

The internet is an outdated medium, but still the most modern one we’ve got. It’s a medium supporting the big ones, the ones with money, and preventing the new and little ones from reaching the top. Popularity is valued over relevancy. Fame over creativity. On Google, 58.4% of all the clicks from users go the first three links, the links considered most appropriate by Google. This percentage decreases dramatically when you leave the top three. Number 11 – that is, the site on the top of the second page – receives merely 2.6% of the clicks. Also, links are still the number one factor in the rankings of search engines like Google, MSN and Yahoo!. And an important factor in the valuation of these links is their trustworthiness, with trustworthiness being a notion that is vague, utterly subjective and based on criteria not necessarily enhancing the quality of the information provided.

Each of these factors hinder new, creative and recalcitrant bloggers from receiving the popularity that they – based on the quality of their content – might deserve. The internet, which in fact is Google and some other search engines, is Marxian in a dysfunctional manner. Power structures determine what information does and what information doesn’t reach the “consumer”, the client sitting behind his computer. It’s only when you’re in the bourgeoisie, when you belong the “big guys”, that you will get noticed. If you’re nothing more than a member of the proletariat, you can yell all you want but the power structures will push you down.

But why would this be a problem? And would it even be a problem? Well, it not has to be. It merely indicates that the internet is dominated by a few big corporations and that you, as a blogger, are painfully dependent upon the support of these few big guys. And even this wouldn’t necessarily have to be a problem. Not if these big guys would base their rankings on factors that we – “the consumers” – find most important. We just want to read the information that bests suit our “information needs”. We don’t care whether this information is written by a fat guy or a big shot working at an esteemed newspaper. We just want our wishes to be fulfilled as accurately as possible.

But the truth of the matter is that the internet, as it exists in this 21st century of ours, can’t live up to these requirements. And the reason for this is pretty simple: the internet can’t read our minds. The internet doesn’t know what we are looking for when we type in, “Gay marriage from a Hobbesian perspective”, in Google. The internet merely recognizes the words “Gay marriage” and “Hobbes”. An although Google might come up with articles talking about gay marriage and about Hobbes, it forgets one big thing: the sentiment I’m looking for. I want the internet to provide me with information that suits my feelings, that absolutely fits my deepest – and sometimes even inexpressible – desires. It is merely cold words that the internet is founded upon. Cold words stringed together by links. We cannot blame Google or any other search engine for this. It’s just the way our 21st century technology works. This is the closest we can currently get in satisfying our needs.

I want to pick your brain for a second, and travel with you to the year 2060. In 2060 the internet will be different. It will not be based on written words anymore. It will not depend on how these words match Google’s database anymore. No, in 2060 we can by merely thinking and feeling about what we’re looking for urge Google to find the information that exactly matches our sentiment. Our brain waves will be matched to the “brain wave DNA” of the information that can be found on the internet. No need for links anymore. No domination of the “big few” anymore. Only the pure relevance of information will be judged. This will be an environment for beginning bloggers to thrive in. Released from the “status disadvantage” they currently have. Only the value of one’s content can and will be judged.

But what do you think?