Saturday, October 28, 2006

Musing on cyber-money

Earlier today, I had to hit the bank to deposit Jenn's check, and was listening to Midnight Oil's Blue Sky Mining album. I'm not sure what about those things inspired the following, but something did...

For many people, the cyber-economy is a fiction, a place where people can manipulate numbers without real world consequences and the numbers themselves have little or no validity. Trillions of dollars flow through cyberspace daily, multiplying with little link to the "real world."

To some degree, I agree with that attitude. But this morning, it also occurred to me that the cybereconomy, if properly managed, has far greater potential to meet humanity's needs than does the traditional economy.

The cybereconomy is not, in fact, rooted in nothing; its roots tap the various intangibles we as a society should put a much greater value on -- creativity, independence, personal uniqueness, entrepreneurship, community and intelligence. These things are not just "business" attributes, they're things most people share, and the cybereconomy actually acknowledges this fact. Combined, these traits provide the basis for an economic system that can truly be global, even go beyond this planet when we do, and include everyone capable of coming up with a new idea. The cybereconomy even has a place (although today's "leaders" won't like this concept) for hackers and counterfeiters, because they create value where none previously existed ... just like the speculators of the old economy.

The traditional economy, by contrast, gives those concepts lip-service, but doesn't really abide by them. Because it's rooted in material resources -- gold, silver, furs, crops, whatever -- it is inherently subject to control by the relatively few people who have those things. Regardless of what avenue of economy a person wants to be active in, there are invariably restrictions of some kind and inconveniences placed on the flow of goods and ideas to benefit a few who claim to "own" them.

As a zero-sum system, the old economy favors certain kinds of interactions -- namely, exploitative ones -- among people and between humans and nature, often to the detriment of both. The only difference is that the "loser" gets harmed immediately, while the "winner" gets harmed in the long-term. It is, by its very nature, a form of both autocratic and scarcity thinking, yet its practitioners deny that fact, to the detriment of everyone.

One example of the fundamental difference between the two economies is art. In the old system, access to art is severely limited, by wealthy patrons (including governments) owning it outright or limiting its circulation to museums that only a relatively few people have access to, for fiscal or geographic reasons. Although many people express their creativity artistically, a small handful tend to define what is economically valuable, and thereby greatly limit the potential of art as a means of livelihood.

By "cyberizing" art, however, the original, physical work still exists, but a vastly larger number of people have access to it and the opportunity to see and be inspired by it. The focus of what's valuable shifts from the actual object to the idea of art and the mindset behind the act of creation.

The same thing could really be said about many things in cyberspace, especially simulated communities. There, people have the choice to literally change the world into something they'd want to live in and an opportunity to experiment with ideas or behavior that very rarely exists in the "real" world. While some people use that opportunity to escape from physical reality, others use it to discover who they are and what they believe. While some of the concepts expressed are hostile, I think the fact they can be expressed and shared makes hostile acts less likely in the long run.

Labels: ,


When I read this story in the Arizona Republic, an admittedly slightly paranoid idea struck me: they know the voting machines are crooked.

Early voting strong in Maricopa County

Robbie Sherwood
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 28, 2006 12:00 AM

Voter turnout for the Nov. 7 general election could be high if early-ballot requests are any indication.

Early voting is strong in Maricopa County, with approximately 470,000 requests received by Friday's deadline, said Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne. There are 1.5 million registered voters in the county.

She cautioned that Election Day turnout might not be very brisk because of a long ballot.

Osborne did note one "anomaly": Nearly 90,000 more Republicans than Democrats have early ballots but have not yet mailed them back. The gap is usually only half that large at this time, she said.

Republicans typically vote by mail in larger percentages than Democrats, but the numbers could be a sign of an extra effort by state and federal candidates to get out Republican voters in the GOP stronghold of Maricopa County, said Doug Cole, a campaign strategist.

Of the early-ballot requests in Maricopa County, 52 percent came from Republicans, 32 percent from Democrats and 16 percent from independents and unaffiliated voters.

More than 125,000 mail-in ballots have been cast.

Statewide, early-ballot requests were nearing 700,000 late this week

This is also an election that features yet another of those Constitutional amendments (Proposition 107) to prohibit gay marriage. According to the Phoenix New Times, it "would also eliminate health and financial benefits that normally accrue to a civil union or couples living together." If anyone reads this blog from AZ, please vote against such nonsense -- it's short-sighted, ideologically-driven bigotry that has no place in a free society.

(I realize I don't live there now, but I did, and think part of me still calls Arizona home.)