Tokens:The Future of Money in the Age of the Platform

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Wherever you look, money is being replaced by tokens. Digital platforms are issuing new kinds of money-like things, from phone credit, to shares, gift vouchers, game tokens, and customer data. These tokens are used to turn invisible stuff into assets, to pay wages, to track purchases, and to program and specify the terms of financial and political access and inclusion. 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 world. By exploring the history of experiments in extra-monetary economies, O'Dwyer shows that private and grassroots tokens have always ghosted the real economy. But as the large tech platforms issue new money-like instruments, tokens are suddenly everywhere. Amazon's Turk workers getting paid in gift cards. Online streamers trading in wishlists. Foreign Remittances sent via phone credit. Gamers working for virtual gold. Coined memes selling for thousands. Bitcoin, gift cards, NFTs, customer data and game tokens are the new money in an evolving economy. This challenges the balance of power between online empires and the state. For platforms, tokens can be an extra-regulatory sleight of hand. But for everyday users, workers and online subcultures, tokens can also be subversive, a way of imagining what money could be, now and in the future.


  • Rachel O'Dwyer offers an introduction to the politics of modern tech darlings: from cryptocurrency to Web3. [Tokens] explores the future of money, which O'Dwyer points out is increasingly "being replaced by tokens", and questions what it means when digital platforms become the new banks. While these tokens offer new types of relationships, ownership, and governance, O'Dwyer warns that they also usher in novel forms of surveillance and discipline.

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