Bill Maurer, University of California, Irvine
Posted December 16th, 2012
Bill Maurer, Dean of the School of Social Sciences & Professor, Univeristy of California, Irvine
Silent scribes record your debt. Nothing passes from hand to hand except the goods you receive, or the services you hire. All of the information necessary for the settlement of your debt is recorded at the same time as the transaction, along with notations about your identity, your past transactions, your social status. Multiple accounting devices exist. Ledgers circulate freely and are convertible, negotiable, can be singed over to others in exchange for other goods and services. There is no money, per se, but rather an infinite chain of IOUs.
This describes not the future, but the past: the ancient world before the rise of coinage, when money was a unit of account not a tangible object, and clay tokens and cuneiform tablets recorded debits and credits between transacting parties.
That first era of cashlessness was heavily data-centric—capturing in records the transactional information that was the basis for the entire system of exchange, rather than deploying a representation of exchanges using coins or paper. How to assess the coming era, not the end of cash so much as the return of cashlessness?
The point of sale is already no longer a just till but a portal into a vast, quickly privatizing commons of transactional records. Money itself, in all its forms, is a gigantic database of transactions, a living and moving history of people’s and things’ and algorithms’ interrelationships and meshed, interwoven subjectivities. And barter is back: a new marketing channel, and for business to business transactions.
In 2020, payment has become advertising, and money is marketing. If, in ancient civilizations, payment depended upon and generated loyalty to sovereign, to nation, to community, to mutually interdependent transactors, today, it seeks continually to create new loyalties: to brand, to product, to candidate. There are varying degrees of closed- and openness of transactional data, not an all or nothing access proposition, not for everyone or everything, but segmented access based on parts of one’s personality or identity, distinct chains of data, lines connecting databases providing channels for flow. If the great transactional archive were democratized, in a radical sense, then would everyone have the opportunity to write, re-write and even reformat the database of human economic interconnection? This would be a world of new economies, and new loyalties.