Rachel O'DwyerOct 8, 2023
The Future of Money in the Age of the Platform
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.
Long-listed by the Financial Times' Best Business Books of 2023 even before publication, Rochel O'Dower's Tokens: The Future of Money in the Age of the Platform (Verso, 2023) tackles the proliferation of alternatives to central bank-issued money through an enagaging and easy-to-access narrative.
Bernardo Batiz-Lazo is currently straddling between Newcastle and Mexico City. You can find him on twitter on issues related to business history of banking, fintech, payments and other musings. Not always in that order. @BatizLazo