Tokens: The Future of Money in the Age of the Platform (Hardcover)

Tokens: The Future of Money in the Age of the Platform By Rachel O'Dwyer Cover Image

Tokens: The Future of Money in the Age of the Platform (Hardcover)

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Longlisted for the Financial Times Schroders Business Book of the Year Award 2023

BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: GQ, Los Angeles Times, Wired

The essential guide to this new landscape of NFTs, Web3, Crypto and DAOs and a warning of the political consequences of what happens when platform capitalism comes for the money in your pocket


Wherever you look, money is being re- placed by tokens. Digital platforms are issuing new kinds of money-like things: phone credit, shares, gift vouchers, game tokens, customer data—the list goes on. But 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 and expanding world. Exploring the history of extra- monetary economies, Rachel O’Dwyer shows that private and grassroots tokens have always haunted the real economy. But as the large tech platforms issue new money-like instruments, tokens are suddenly everywhere. Amazon’s Turk workers are getting paid in gift cards. Online streamers trade in wishlists. Foreign remittances are sent via phone credit. Bitcoin, gift cards, NFTs, customer data, and game tokens are the new money in an evolving economy. It is a development challenging the balance of power between online empires and the state. Tokens may offer a flexible even subversive route to compensation. But for the platforms them- selves they can be a means of amassing frightening new powers.

An essential read for anyone concerned with digital money, inequality, and the future of the economy.
Rachel O'Dwyer is a lecturer at the School of Visual Culture at the National College of Art & Design, Dublin. She was a Fulbright Scholar at UC Irvine and the Microsoft Research labs, Cambridge; she is currently a fellow at Connect, the centre for Networks and Telecommunications at Trinity College, Dublin. She is the co-editor of Neural Magazine and has written for outlets such as Convergence, MIT Press and the London Review of Books. She has curated a number of exhibitions of digital practise that explore the intersection of art and the Blockchain.

Product Details ISBN: 9781839768347
ISBN-10: 1839768347
Publisher: Verso
Publication Date: October 3rd, 2023
Pages: 320
Language: English
"An important addition to the growing blockchain canon, written with wit and generosity."
—Kate Knibbs, Best Books of 2023, WIRED

"Tokens deftly gives the basic concept that animates cryptocurrency - the titular token - the critical and historical treatment."
—Brian Merchant, Best Tech Books of 2023, LA Times

"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."
—Brit Dawson, All the best books to look forward to in 2023, GQ

"A fascinating exploration of things that look like money but aren't quite ... [O'Dwyer] explains everything from crypto heists and the economics of online sex work to the streaming economy of emotes with an amused incredulity allied to a rich source of historical analogies."
—Steven Poole, The Wall Street Journal

"Shot through with references to philosophy, credit scores and sociological treatises on the nature of money ... [O'Dwyer] leavens the theory with interviews and stories of people who have been sucked into the digital token economy in different ways"
—Brooke Masters, Financial Times

"Rachel O'Dywer takes us on a fascinating and important journey into the vast realm of hidden currencies that operate in the shadows of mainstream money systems. She shows how unorthodox tokens have been enlisted by those seeking emancipation, but rather than uncritically praising them as breakthrough innovations, she also skillfully draws out the deep ambiguities inherent within them: powerful corporate players are quick to take advantage of the grey area on the edge of standard monetary systems to accumulate more profit and data. A must read for anyone exploring the politics of Big Tech and Big Finance."
—Brett Scott, author of Cloud Money

"No one has done more thoughtful research or has more nuanced takes than Rachel O'Dwyer. She mercilessly cuts through the hype and yet leaves room for hope."
—Lana Swartz, author of New Money

"In this endlessly fascinating book, Rachel O'Dwyer illuminates the deep strangeness and complexity of money. Written with engaging style and deep intellectual rigour, Tokens is a bracing and enriching exploration of the future of techno-capitalism."
—Mark O'Connell, author of A Thread of Violence

"Token economies are not your typical markets. Enabling a recent explosion of digital grey economies, tokens are used to represent belonging, appreciation, fandom and exclusivity mediating identities, access and incomes across the vast peripheries of the formal economy. Read O'Dwyers book immediately for a full spectrum overview of how tokens have facilitated fields of social potential and experimentation that have nevertheless been locked down and exploited by the tech companies who own the underlying rails."
—Jaya Klara Brekke

"There’s much food for thought in there, often of the kinds that impact our daily lives...O'Dwyer is an engaging, amusing writer."
—Megan Volpert, Popmatters

"A cautionary, comprehensive look at money and its virtual discontents"
Kirkus Reviews

"A groundbreaking exploration of the evolving landscape of tokens beyond the usual critique of financialisation. Through a captivating exploration of history, O'Dwyer reveals the deeply political nature of tokens, shedding light on their enduring presence and demonstrating how today's digital tokens are simply a continuation of humanity's longstanding use of tokens to facilitate a wide range of social processes."
Blockchain Socialist

"A must-read for anyone seeking to navigate this new world and shape a fairer future."
Denizen

"A sharp, accessible deep-dive on just what is going on with crypto"
The Handbook

"[Tokens] raises fascinating questions about the future of money"
—Régine Debatty, We Make Money Not Art

"[A] timely panorama."
—Chris Horn, Irish Times

"This book offers a deep dive - a very deep dive - into how contemporary tokens work, and the consequences of their use, both for the good and for the bad ... A must-read for anyone who cares about the future of money and what the consequences will be for all of us."
The Arts Fuse

"Riveting"
—Stuart Jeffries, Prospect

"Impressive ... an invaluable book that is timely, a pleasure to read, politically engaging, and incredibly informative on so many levels."
Neural

"Explores many of the open-ended intriguing questions that arise from tokenisation, and does so in a nuanced way with wit and humour."
—Devanshu Datta, Business Insider