Tokens: The Future of Money in the Age of the Platform

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    Rachel O'Dwyer

    Publisher: Verso

    Year: 2023

    Format: Hardcover

    Size: 321 pages

    ISBN: 9781839768347

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Platform capitalism is coming for the money in your pocket

Wherever you look, money is being re-placed by tokens. Digital platforms are issuing new kinds of money-like things: phone credit, shares, gift vouchers, game tokens, customer data—the list goes on. But what does it mean when online platforms become the new banks? What new types of control and discrimination emerge when money is tied to specific apps or actions, politics or identities?

Tokens opens up this new and expanding world. Exploring the history of extra-monetary economies, Rachel O’Dwyer shows that private and grassroots tokens have always haunted the real economy. But as the large tech platforms issue new money-like instruments, tokens are suddenly everywhere. Amazon’s Turk workers are getting paid in gift cards. Online streamers trade in wishlists. Foreign remittances are sent via phone credit. Bitcoin, gift cards, NFTs, customer data, and game tokens are the new money in an evolving economy. It is a development challenging the balance of power between online empires and the state. Tokens may offer a flexible even subversive route to compensation. But for the platforms themselves they can be a means of amassing frightening new powers.

An essential read for anyone concerned with digital money, inequality, and the future of the economy.

What People Are Saying

"Rachel O'Dwyer offers an introduction to the politics of modern tech darlings: from cryptocurrency to Web3. [Tokens] explores the future of money, which O'Dwyer points out is increasingly "being replaced by tokens", and questions what it means when digital platforms become the new banks. While these tokens offer new types of relationships, ownership, and governance, O'Dwyer warns that they also usher in novel forms of surveillance and discipline." Brit Dawson, "All the best books to look forward to in 2023", GQ

"Rachel O'Dywer takes us on a fascinating and important journey into the vast realm of hidden currencies that operate in the shadows of mainstream money systems. She shows how unorthodox tokens have been enlisted by those seeking emancipation, but rather than uncritically praising them as breakthrough innovations, she also skillfully draws out the deep ambiguities inherent within them: powerful corporate players are quick to take advantage of the grey area on the edge of standard monetary systems to accumulate more profit and data. A must read for anyone exploring the politics of Big Tech and Big Finance." Brett Scott, author of Cloud Money

"No one has done more thoughtful research or has more nuanced takes than Rachel O'Dwyer. She mercilessly cuts through the hype and yet leaves room for hope." Lana Swartz, author of New Money

"In this endlessly fascinating book, Rachel O'Dwyer illuminates the deep strangeness and complexity of money. Written with engaging style and deep intellectual rigour, Tokens is a bracing and enriching exploration of the future of techno-capitalism." Mark O'Connell, author of A Thread of Violence

"Token economies are not your typical markets. Enabling a recent explosion of digital grey economies, tokens are used to represent belonging, appreciation, fandom and exclusivity mediating identities, access and incomes across the vast peripheries of the formal economy. Read O'Dwyers book immediately for a full spectrum overview of how tokens have facilitated fields of social potential and experimentation that have nevertheless been locked down and exploited by the tech companies who own the underlying rails." Jaya Klara Brekke

"There’s much food for thought in there, often of the kinds that impact our daily lives...O'Dwyer is an engaging, amusing writer." Megan Volpert, Popmatters

"A cautionary, comprehensive look at money and its virtual discontents" Kirkus Reviews

"A groundbreaking exploration of the evolving landscape of tokens beyond the usual critique of financialisation. Through a captivating exploration of history, O'Dwyer reveals the deeply political nature of tokens, shedding light on their enduring presence and demonstrating how today's digital tokens are simply a continuation of humanity's longstanding use of tokens to facilitate a wide range of social processes." Blockchain Socialist

"A must-read for anyone seeking to navigate this new world and shape a fairer future." Denizen

"A sharp, accessible deep-dive on just what is going on with crypto." The Handbook

"[Tokens] raises fascinating questions about the future of money." Régine Debatty, We Make Money Not Art

"Shot through with references to philosophy, credit scores and sociological treatises on the nature of money ... [O'Dwyer] leavens the theory with interviews and stories of people who have been sucked into the digital token economy in different ways." Brooke Masters, Financial Times

"[A] timely panorama." Chris Horn, Irish Times

Tags: anticapitalism ....... economics ....... Rachel O'Dwyer ....... technology ....... Verso .......