One Night in the Blockchain Economy
By Ellie Rennie on ALTCOIN MAGAZINE
‘In the future, everyone will exchange goods and services using distributed technologies’,
— they told me.
‘But realistically, how far off is that?’
— I asked.
— they said.
The entrance to the blockchain economy was a nondescript garage off a dark street on the far edge of Melbourne’s CBD. There was a small table, upon which sat a laptop and a fish tank filled with dollars. A small crowd stood around, phones at the ready while a man in a teal-colored hoodie turned their cash into Flex Buxx, the only currency worth anything where we were going. I put 20 dollars in the tank, opened a browser and waited while he transferred Flex Buxx via QR code to my phone (each dollar was worth 1337 Buxx). I felt rich. I was ready to party like it was December 2017.
I had been invited into this pop-up economy by Flex Dapps, a company started by two house-mates. The event was their ‘one year of solvency party’, also known as The AGM. As co-founder Alex Ramsay tells it, Flex Dapps started in a similar fashion to the evening: “People kept throwing money at us, so we had to create an entity to hold all the cash”. Tom Nash, the other half of the Flex Dapps empire, had in fact spent 10 days building the wallet before the cash arrived. He based it on Austin Griffith’s innovation, known as a ‘burner wallet’, using the xDai chain.
The address for the pop-up economy had been distributed through a secret Telegram channel earlier that day. We were instructed to bring only fiat and items to trade. The dress code was “come as the barista you’d love to serve you”, with links to hipster aprons. This Melbournesque suggestion was promptly rejected, with general agreement that dream baristas wear Flex Dapps hoodies and unicorn t-shirts. One woman responded that she was not able to create a seven eleven coffee machine costume in time.
While we waited in line for our central banker to do the transfer, people talked about what they were intending to trade that night. Some items were tangible: vegan cookies, fidget cubes, pizza, and beer. Others were intangible: A woman who works for ConsenSys planned to sell her soul; a magician sold magic tricks. My date marketed himself as a random number generator, with a side hustle selling fake prime numbers (“what’s a fake prime number?” “A number that everyone thinks is a prime number but it is not, such as 9”, to which the coders nodded in thoughtful agreement). Items such as the Blockhorse could only be classified into some weird new type of tangibility made possible by tokenization.
Armed with my many Buxx I headed up the stairs into a strange new world. There was a computer sitting above boxes of beers, where you could send Buxx on an honesty-bar basis. One end of the living room had a bar with hard liquor, but it was cordoned off, guarded by an air tasker security guard. Entry into the VIP area was granted only if you evicted someone else by paying more than they had paid. Once you were in the VIP area you were granted 15 minutes before your spot became available for purchase. On the rooftop I heard a guy boasting about buying his way into the VIP area, only to be evicted before he had a chance to get there. “But you don’t even drink!” he said to his evictor, then walked off with a despondent, “I got rekkt”. Savvy partygoer Andrew B Coathup purchased a fake gold watch from a Flex Dapps staffer who was unaware that the watch meant entry into the VIP area. “For 25000 I get to drink as much brown liquor as I can handle,” he told me.
The wallet itself could also be used to play games at the party or to game the party. The most popular activity was a boat race called Regatta, created by Andrew Parker. The crowd cheered their boat as it raced slowly across the TV screen. There were tarot card readings available through the wallet. You could pay to make all the iPhones in the room simultaneously produce fart noises.
A Cryptokitty in a frame changed hands. The mnemonic phrase to access the wallet where the digital object was held was built into the frame, with the purchaser required to change the password on purchase. Other rare artworks were available in the form of whiteboard drawings (rare in that they would be wiped off once purchased). If you wanted to be crypto-about it, you could then use an entirely separate innovation to take a picture of the drawing through your wallet and the picture could be sold a maximum of three times. A pair of jeans with sesame street letters on them was traded, only to be bought back at a loss by the original owner. The two purchasers agreed to cut the jeans in half. ‘This is the future of finance’, one of them said while showing off his half-jeans.
After a couple of hours of such communitarian bartering and blatant capitalist skulduggery, the 70 or so people in attendance were ushered into the lounge for an auction.
A dazzling array of items were up for sale, most of them antiques from a bygone era when ICOs and bubbles yielded shamelessly extravagant crypto swag:
- A stylish EOS laptop bag manufactured by Moleskin.
- A Loki t-shirt that had ‘never been worn to the gym’ fetched 20,000 Buxx
- A pair of Dogecoin sunglasses were given away, but only “because we have a lot of shit to get through”. A total steal.
- Two crypto coins, as in physical coins, but with some kind of electronic key inside them. The H-Coin was so good, said Alex, that you could take it to New York Blockchain Week (‘or take it to the Supreme Court’ yelled a Decred supporter).
- One of the teal-colored, highly sought-after Flex Dapps hoodies, but in size x-s, sold for 40,000 Buxx. It was a good night to be petite.
- An EOS Block One T-Shirt, possibly stolen from a hackathon, went for 21,000 Buxx.
- The most expensive item was a matchbox car of the Nascar sponsored by the Dogecoin community in 2014. In a regular auction, the price goes up with every bid, but in a crypto-party auction, prices can be volatile. I somehow managed to buy the matchbox car for less than I offered during a rapidly fluctuating market (we went from 52,000 down to 10,000 before settling on 50,000).
For better or worse, the party left a permanent trail of evidence on the Ethereum blockchain. Tom has summarised the transactions from the evening in his write-up and Andrew reviewed his purchases. In summary, the party had a market cap of AU$1200 with over 650 transactions. The Regatta game accounted for 23% of those transactions.
Most importantly people had a lot of fun, probably because there was always something to discover inside the party. Designers figured out long ago that location-based games can overcome awkward social situations; Flex Dapps added a pop-up economy to that recipe. While we generally don’t go to parties to make money (unless we are musicians or drug dealers), we do go to show off, contribute and exchange a little of ourselves. The pop-up economy allows you to come bearing something other than a few old stories, a mid-range wine, and a new haircut.
Does this tell us anything about the future of blockchain? Only that these small experiments, where we get to do things differently for a while, to escape the mainstream capitalist economy for something of our own making, can be brilliant. Perhaps more importantly, the many blockchain developers at the party now know what it means for humans to be on the receiving end of a smart contract and that their work can be creative, generative and joyous.
Of course, there were glitches, both technological and human, and Tom worked hard to keep the whole thing running. I heard it all ended with the fire brigade being called at 12.40am when someone posing as a random number generator (not my date) pressed all the buttons on the house alarm keyboard, which had never been used. Even a pop-up blockchain economy can be risky business.
A note about me: I am Co-Director of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre at RMIT University; a member of the RMIT Blockchain Innovation Hub; and a committee member of Web3 Australia, which is an NFP incorporated association committed to advancing decentralized technologies. In case you are wondering how I scored an invitation to the party, Alex Ramsay and Tom Nash from Flex Dapps are also involved with Web3 Australia.