Have I actually improved the silence?

As the world seems to be falling apart, and social media introduces a new level of cacophony of misinformation, speculation, and downright venomous bile — we should ask ourselves, is what I am about to say better than silence? Am I adding anything to what’s already being said? And possibly most importantly, is my desire to say it keeping me from listening to what is already being said. Because waiting for your turn to talk is not the same as listening.

Have I actually improved the silence?

In a month where between Thatcher and Boston we definitely saw some of the worst of ‘social media’*, Mike Monteiro hits the proverbial nail on the head when he asks us to question our contributions to the digital debate. Twitter just seems to be flowing with bile at the moment. Conversely, I took a dip into Facebook recently following months of having a deactivated account and it just seems so dull, full of banal marketing waffle. Either way, its not very nice to swim in.

Monteiro’s Quaker-inspired creed is a very good way to conduct your online business. As I’ve explored Buddhism more, I think more and more about the effects of my online actions. I’ve become a bit more reluctant to just pump the contents of my brain out there, especially if its for cheap laughs at someones expense or if its throwing a bomb into a heated debate. Mindfulness needs to extend to all our actions, including our tweeting. Indeed, Prickly Goo was born out of a growing dissatisfaction with the tone of my old blog, which had (for me) become simply a rant-fest. Your words have consequences out there in the real world. We really need to think about those, and indeed, our motivations and intentions. Why are we saying what we are saying? I think a lot of why we publish these days is less to do with contributing or debating but more to do with solidifying our own digital ego. As the Boston Bombing story was breaking, you got the impression people were simply tweeting just for the sake of contribution, to be seen to be part of the ‘breaking event’. As a friend pointed out, we get the lunacy of people tweeting that they are speechless. You are telling us you have nothing to say.

*On a side note, there’s been a lot of meta naval gazing about social media’s role in such events. Almost as much discussion to the event itself is now given to how we discussed the event! And in doing so, ‘social media’ has become this almost natural force. Or, to paraphrase the Mighty Mos Def “People talk about social media like it’s some giant livin in the hillside, Comin down to visit the townspeople”

Bitcoin and the nature of money

I’ve quoted Alan Watts before on the nature of money, and written on the topic in more detail.

What wasn’t understood then, and still isn’t really understood today, is that the reality of money is of the same type as the reality of centimeters, grams, hours, or lines of longitude. Money is a way measuring wealth but is not wealth in itself. A chest of gold coins or a fat wallet of bills is of no use whatsoever to a wrecked sailor alone on a raft. He needs real wealth, in the form of a fish rod, a compass, an outboard motor with gas, and a female companion.

And I thought of it again whilst thinking about bit coin. Bitcoin is a ‘digital currency’ that is in the news at the moment due to its wild fluctuations. In fact, whether we can call it a ‘currency’ or not is part of its problem. There’s been loads written about it recently, some of which is quick to claim that it’s not a currency at all.

I quite like the Washington Post’s take on it. It deals with what is for me the most interesting thing about bit coin – it is forcing people to think about what money is.

…money has almost nothing to do with physical form. It also doesn’t have much to do with who creates it: The dollar bills were issued by the Federal Reserve, the checking account created by my neighborhood bank, the money market fund was created by a mutual fund manager, the gold was mined out of the ground, and the refrigerator was made by General Electric.

Rather, what makes money money is what you can do with it. If you can purchase the goods and services that you want and need with it, it is money; if you can’t, it isn’t. Money is memory, said Narayana Kocherlakota in an important 1996 paper (he is now president of the Minneapolis Fed). It is the way we as a society record how much capacity to buy stuff each of us possess.

They also reference an Onion article entitled “U.S. Economy Grinds to Halt As Nation Realizes Money Just A Symbolic, Mutually Shared Illusion.” to help make their point.

This is inline with Watts talk of money as measurement. Bitcoin idealists I guess use this to legitimise themselves; it is just another, radically different (in its lack of centralisation) measurement tool. The Post, however, posit some retorts – one of which is that currency like the Dollar is not just ‘socially’ accepted as currency, it is effectively enforced by the most powerful entity on Earth – the U.S. government. And both the Post and the Guardian bemoan it’s like of liquidity and central control to keep it liquid.

Still, it’s nice to see this debate being played out. Watts was keen to get us to remember that money is not wealth. Bitcoin helps us remember this, I think. Interesting times ahead.

See also: Money and Wealth