Posted by on Jan 27, 2014 in Featured, Secret History, Uncategorized |

I’m sitting on the floor of a popular hangout in Second Life  decorated like a fetish club. It’s the kind of place I might consider burning my shoes after visiting in real life, and I certainly wouldn’t sit on the floor, but virtual worlds are great for germaphobes.

A friend I haven’t seen around in a long time appears. She manifests as a kind of overbuilt leather-winged dragon creature wrapped in a bikini with smoke trailing out of her ears. I ask what she’s been up to.

 

I’ve gotten obsessed with cryptocurrencies o.o;

I’m making a few hundred bucks a month off it… new hardware on the way to pump that amount up to close to $1000 a month if my math is right 😀

I have a whole system set up and automated with a buncha shit I wrote that basically calculates the currently most profitable altcoin every few hours, mines that, then cashes it out based on 24hr trends every several hours, or holds it for awhile if there is a massive drop, then all those amounts are transferred automatically and pays me out every 24 hrs in [Bitcoin], which is then fed via another API and exchanged for Lindens [Secondlife currency]*.

Then the only part not automated, I take the lindens and from SL -> paypal and the best part is, I’m doing it all with my server and currently, a single radeon 7950. But I have two 7970s and a 5870 on the way 😀

I wanna keep putting the money I make doing it into more hardware until I’m making the equivalent of 30k a year or so off it minus power costs, then just start dumping that sum into a roth IRA.

 

For the record I take major issue with the whole cryptocurrency thing (Note: If you have been under a rock and have no idea what any of this is about, you could do worse than this primer). Crypto currencies seem to me, more so than many recent things, to embody the worst of the neoliberal attitude my friend Deb succinctly defined as “fuck-you-I-got-mine.” Unsustainable and more than a bit awful; Charlie Stross has spelled it out better than I could.

My gut tells me that these currencies will die in the fires of late capitalism and in the not so distant future. Most of the people I know with a greater than academic interest in alternative currencies are speculators. They are focused exclusively on how many US dollars or Euros one can get out of the system before it collapses. How much “real” currency, or how many “real” products (like Tesla Roadsters, whose assembly-plant workers are not, I suspect, paid in Bitcoin).

Because of this, and because the billionaire boys club is an institution that doesn’t take new members lightly, I suspect this will all be effectively shut down in the way the US has effectively shut down any number of other grey and black markets: it will put enough pressure on Visa/MasterCard to get them to stop processing cash-outs, and the value and interest to most folks will nosedive.

At that point Bitcoin et-al may remain useful for black market negotiations (In particular as Stross points out: for things like child porn and drugs), but those markets have existed for a while with plenty of other currencies, barter systems and on a larger scale with bearer bonds such as un-marketable stolen artwork. The market always finds a way.  And the higher the profile of the system, the more susceptible it is to government intervention.

In the end though, none of the political handwringing or financial impact interests me all that much. What does interest was the wave of rare futureshock that hit me on the floor of that virtual club. Present-day-me experienced a kind of time-slip where I recognized myself as a character in one of the cyberpunk novels my teen self devoured between “going on-line” and nosing around the proto-internet at 2400bps.

What we’ve built is, for better or worse, the world we imagined a few decades ago. And what we have, more than anything, is a site for simulating realty at an unprecedented scale. Just past the rhetoric and the speculation, crypto-currencies strike me as a uniquely contemporary way of dealing with… something. It’s a characteristic of computation, that is provides an ideal tool for creating models, and for rapidly iterating over them to test many scenarios which are otherwise impractical in real life. We use this modeling for impossible and dangerous and important things: nuclear and chemical war games, disaster planning, financial modeling, weather and earthquake prediction. And we also use it on ourselves: performance of identity and power dynamics, love, sex, politics and money.

Whether my armchair musings about economics are right nor not, what is amazing to me about the current crypto currency thing is the degree to which everyone seems to know that it is an unstable game but wants to play anyway.This is a Ponzi scheme in which there are no obvious marks (because it requires a level of sophistication to even be involved) but also in which there are no obvious Ponzis (because even if a few make out with real money it will almost certainly be tracked and taxed in the end, or end up useful only for coffee and virtual battle-axes).

 

It’s a funny game: the only way to win is not to play.

Or perhaps the winning is the playing.

 

And so this is where the challenge is: to engage (or not) in order to find the edges of our world, to re-establish or re-write our codes of ethics and economics, to simulate alternatives to what we have and, if it goes well, to come back to earth with a plan to fix all this broken shit.

 

Maybe.

 

As for my online friend, I know something of her real life, in that way that one does in virtual worlds where everyone is an intimate and nobody knows your name. Because of this it is difficult not to admire a game well played. And fifteen year old me? He feels just a little vindicated and maybe even delighted. Even if I want this particular round to end in flames, I’m pleased that perhaps one person who does not work at J.P. Morgan might get to tell a story in 40 years over shuffleboard and cocktails, about how they funded their retirement with smoke trailing out of their ears at the fetish club.

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* Also surprising: The notion that Lindens, of all currency, might be the most stable in this situation (Few of you probably know or care about the Linden Banking Run of 2008, where virtual world residents LARPED 1929 using real money, but it pre-figured Bitcoin by quite a few years). Viva la Doge.