The Current Currency

Marooned for a night in a strange, hot town (Austin, that Oz sprouting from the broad, flat face of east Texas), I went in search of Cuba Libres and blessed cool. I washed up at a small saloon on 6th, perhaps the only place in town with no music and even less light.

Suited me fine. I sipped my rimmed cocktail and kept my thoughts close, committing myself to authoring tweet storms in the style of Raymond Chandler (She was a hot dame in a cold city. July in San Francisco, that foggy mess of a rumpled urban bed."Hey,Teresias," she said,“Got a light?" That’s 140 characters…)

My reverie was broken by a reedy voice from the next bar stool. It sounded like Willie Nelson’s grandpa and, when I looked over, my neighbor looked like an ancient Jerry Lee Lewis in a ten-gallon hat. He even had on blue suede cowboy boots.

“I’m Joe Bob Billy,” he said, “Lone rambler of the Western High Plains. God’s Country. Texas. Out where we listen to both kinds of music, Country and Western. Where cow punchin’ is life as God meant it. My horse. My dog. My .44. But you gotta get supplies.” (He raised his glass at this.) “So here I am back in civilization, such as it is.”

“Here’s the problem, you see,” said Joe Bob Billy, oblivious to my clear desire to disappear entirely inside my IPhone screen, “I’m still a hunter/gatherer type of fella. That’s pretty much what I do. Hunting, gathering, and cow management. Back a time, it’s what we all did. And then some fella said, ‘But if I plant my own seeds, I don’t have to chase around and hunt for something to gather,’ and that was good for 10,000 years. And then a Scotch guy invented the steam engine, and we got lights and steam trains and electric razors and big factories and vertically integrated mega-companies…And then them baby boomers invented the Walkman, and everybody got their own Information Revolution. Ain’t that right?”

These speculations spewed out with the speed of water from a high pressure hose. It was chaotic and kind of crazy, but I had to admit, I was getting curious. Who was this Texas beanpole philosopher? I darkened my phone’s screen.

“So, sure as shootin’ in about 2008, it became clear that the kids were building Social Media, and they were able to have as many friends as they wanted, could turn to anyone they ‘knew’ in this Social world to find what they want, think what they want, play as they want, work as they could. Dint matter no longer if they saw their friends or played ball in the lot or some other game behind the bleachers. And now, having millions of friends meant they wouldn’t look at adverts any longer. Yessir, it was called the Social Revolution. At least so it seemed to me. I’m not sure anyone else called it that…But I kept ‘splaining it to them how important it was.

"I now see I was wrong. I know. I know. How could a Cowboy Prophet like me be wrong. But I confused the ability with the impact. Whatever can happen, will happen, given enough time, says that great cowboy poet, Werner Heisenberg. Technology wise, we can have friends without having to meet with them. So we do.

"But that’s not the revolution, I now see, as I look around this hipster hot pot, and see what the kids are doing. It’s not that they HAVE friends, but what they DO with them: every little thing. Everything they care about, think about, do anything, buy anything, tell anyone else to buy. That’s what they’re doing. And the tech, the networks, are digesting and focusing and making money selling anything to every one of us. And instead of TV networks, it’s the Social Networks getting all the money.

"To us’ens, the old people, ‘selling out’ is horrible, well, it just ain’t honorable. And for our great grand mommies, not tilling the earth, putting in a good days work as the Lord commandeth. And for our daddies, Truth, Justice and the American Way…do you see what I’m trying to say? Every AGE has its own ethic. Agrarian, Industrial, Information Age. Think about it on your own. Don’t make me ‘splain everything to you. You can see. Right? We could play a campfire game: Match the unconscious cultural verities to the generation.”

I nodded, sagely or numbly, I wasn’t quite sure.

“So what if, for the kids, those under 25, let’s say, they think getting money for any and everything is the way it’s supposed to be? It’s just natural? ‘What?’ we’d say. ‘Sell my friends? Sell my relationships? Sell my intimate dreams, and fears?’ We can’t imagine. But the kids know, it’s already happening. At least 2.5 billion people. Today. It’s just that Facebook collects all that money. Amazon collects most of it. Pinterest, Twitter…

"The kids know they’re making friends, influencing people, deciding directions. Every kind of action. Interaction. Transaction. And companies, brands, every kind of capitalist (And I’m not making fun, here. I love capitalists. They buy steaks.) wants to influence everyone with money. Makes easy sense, right?”

I realized my mouth was open, so I closed it. He took that as agreement.

“So won’t we see some social network rise up to compete with Facebook that says ‘And we’ll give you back fifteen percent of the money we get because we know what you like and don’t like and who and how much and what you’re buying and what you want to buy and what others want to buy because you want to buy?’

 "At the same time, this Internet Of Things will have, what, billions and billions of sensors and devices in just a couple of years, and every hot plate and coffee cup and horse saddle will become smart, right? Putting out data. About what I’m dreaming about and what I’m upset with and who’s upset with me and what groups are making other groups want what kind of stuff, and who wishes for what and how sore my ass is (I usually have a donkey following behind, with my camp pack, in the usual way).

"And then all these artificial intelligence capabilities will find all that data, and the data will find and sculpt and script the AIs, like wind does to prairie poop, making it closer to the ground, hidden, and helping the sage grow. The Miracle of Life cycle, like Miss O’Connor taught you in fifth grade. It’s just like that.

"So just by being born, the next generations will be making money. Everything becomes a currency. We can’t imagine it. The oldsters are talking about minimum wages and guaranteed annual wages, because they're thinking, not listening. We make a distinction between ‘What I get money for,’ and ‘What I don’t get money for’ or more properly “What one shouldn’t get money for.’

"Take away that judgement, and as God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son.’ Oh sorry. Wrong quote. Well anyway, suddenly, just by living, even if you’re in northern Thailand making a dollar a day…I’ve been there. They have gorgeous cows. Twice the milk fat as ours. And they buy stuff. Not the cows. And the Japanese and Indians and Chinese all want to sell stuff to them. All of our plans, ideas, the ways we come to those decisions and most importantly, what we buy, become worth selling to those who want to sell to us. Become a kind of money. A currency. The Current Currency.”