Hot and Cold: Crypto as a Media

Zak Hap
Zak Hap
Apr 24, 2018 · 3 min read

Media (noun), the plural of Medium:

  1. An agency or means of doing something, ‘a medium of exchange/communication/…’;
  2. The intervening substance, the material for an artist, through which impressions are conveyed;
  3. A form of storage for digitized information;

One of the more influential ideas of McLuhan was the introduction of Hot and Cold as descriptors for media. McLuhan describes a hot medium as one the “extends a single sense in ‘high definition.’”¹ High definition, he clarifies, is “the state of being well filled with data.”² The blockchain is hot–it’s high definition–such clear resolution it is transparent as far as it forever grows. Cold media is best understood in relation to hot; a colder media is one in which society has adequately absorbed and expects a certain amount of data/information from while a hotter exceeds some societal expectation.

An abbreviated history of money³ can be explained in terms of hot and cold: simple commodity money (teeth/bones) gave way to luxury commodity money (delicacies) which in turn became the precious stones/minerals/gold that gave way to paper money. At each stage, value was further abstracted to facilitate ease of trade. The Reader’s Digest notably recorded a case from occupation of Europe late in 1945 (WWII) where an unopened pack of cigarettes served as currency, “passing from hand to hand, translating the skill of one worker into the skill of another as long as no one broke the seal.”⁴ In this history of money, it has maintained some of its commodity and community character while gaining mobility–more definition, more data. Extending from paper money, Bitcoin has enabled value to transcend its material body while still grounded in its electrical, material reality. It has gained complete mobility to the extent of our networked systems while exacerbating both its commodity and community character.


Token (noun):

  1. A thing serving as a representation;
  2. A voucher that can be exchanged for goods or services;

Colloquially, token is a term designating the representation of the value of a good, a service, a utility, equity, dividends, etc. In the case of Dogecoin, its social and communal value is substantial. Token is the swiss-army knife term for an abstraction of value, whatever that value may be, that is kept track of on a blockchain database. The non-controversial opinion is that tokens might only encapsulate its intended value if integrated into a network/protocol which the token can be utilized in exchange for that purported intention/value.

I believe there is a subtle difference in the understanding of “tokenize everything” as “emancipating/extracting untapped capital” (or so I’ve heard it discussed at more business/money-centric meet-ups) than “providing a more liquid means of expressing and exchanging any form of value abstractly.” I do not disagree that both are resultant features of tokenization, but the language of the first relies on an inherently exploitative perspective in regards to who may own the “untapped capital” (the image of crooked dentist removing the “untapped capital” of a gold capped tooth comes to mind). The second definition is more interesting yet potentially naive in its own ways:

  1. It is socially agnostic to the tokenization of everything;
  2. It puts immense confidence in the relational/societal force of the market to fairly valuate abstract assets;
  3. It carries the belief that the ability to exchange is an inherently good/positive feature of any system (while this can definitely be said of pro-market perspective).

To “tokenize everything” is to make everything media. Recalling a conversation I had with a long-haired man on the subway:

“Everyone hates the media, but fake news is just as valuable as real news, ya know? It has a social power, man. Power is value, man.”


Endnotes:

  1. McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media. 1964.
  2. Ibid.
  3. David Graeber’s Debt: The Last 5000 Years provides a different history of money. While I might agree with Graeber’s framing of the history, I use the “Commodity History” of money for this post–even if some consider it the noble lie/myth/origin story of our modern understanding of money.
  4. McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media. 1964.

Zak Hap

Written by

Zak Hap

@zakhap @LiminalMedia // Projects Brewing

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