Cyber Cash

December 8, 2022 / Carolynn Solorio

Cryptocurrency is as elusive as it is lucrative — a perfect recipe for exploitation. But it wasn’t intended to be.

Money has a messy history.

Mostly because at every phase of our evolution, we’ve reinvented it. We’re always clinging to the parts of our culture that force us to measure worth, to constantly commodify value and use it as a basis for all that we care about. Money is one of the few things that is understood by virtually everyone on Earth. It's the universal language of the human race, our lifeblood, our key to survival — the origin of everything good and evil. Money is vital to society because it's a manifestation of our most primal instinct: to interact. Without it, how could we ever truly value anything? Money is human, and it's inevitable. We need it to tell us what to do.

Computers do that now, too. The internet revolutionized the concept of human interaction. Naturally, once we had global communication at our fingertips, the need for global monetary exchange was immediate. How could we possibly talk to everyone, everywhere, without currency to measure the worth of our exchanges? In this way, the internet depends on the parts of human life that make money necessary: communication and misunderstanding, polarity and unity. When we could all finally talk to each other, we needed our universal language to understand what it all meant. The physical bill could no longer accommodate the instantaneous nature of communication in the digital age.

So, to accommodate the internet, money made the most radical change in its evolution: It became code.

Online banking was scary at first — it was our initial test-run in handling money after its computerized facelift. Yet it didn’t take long for government institutions and privatized banks to quickly come to our aid, kindly reminding us to maintain our allegiance to capitalism. Extensive, automated surveillance over all online banking became commonplace, an avenue of control over computerized monetary exchange. But now there was a problem. The internet told us that we were limitless, and in that belief we found freedom.

So much of money’s previous influence was that we had to hold it in our hands to know it was real. We fought and killed over the stuff — cold, hard cash — because it was static. We’d previously relied on bureaucratic institutions to print it out and slice it for us, granting them universal control. But that was changing. Instead, money became satellite signals racing above our heads and the code across our screen.

And the thing about code is that it can be copied. And pasted. Everywhere.

Enter: CRYPTOCURRENCY. The anarchist antithesis to banking. Crypto is the marriage between the global interconnectivity of the internet and the disobedient spirit of your average tax evader. It was originally meant to be elusive by design — a way to dodge the bureaucracy of online banking while still sending money everywhere around the world. There was danger in this Wild West, sure, but it was an escape from institutional eyes. It was the back-alley alternative to an online format that recorded and reported everything. Crypto was the coder's gift to the world, the currency of the insurrectionist. There was freedom to trade your numbers without anyone watching, the most deliberate way to stick it to the man. Cryptocurrency was meant to be a method of monetary exchange free from systematic abuse, but the problem with that is that we — the people using it — are not.

But damn if we didn’t try. Mistrust of traditional banking methods was rampant following the financial crisis of 2008, and people were desperate for an avenue of banking that divorced them from their reliance on bureaucratic institutions. We needed to reclaim the code. Enter: BITCOIN. Bitcoin was the first mainstream decentralized cryptocurrency. It was the lab rat of crypto, introduced to the public in 2009 initially as an open-source software. The value of Bitcoin was, and still is, determined by a consensus mechanism that’s produced through computer mining, which essentially means that it is self-sufficient. Bitcoin is constantly reevaluating its worth based on the merit of its users and the exchanges occurring between them. So, the reliance on the institutions that made online banking a perfect recipe for exploitation became negotiable. In fact, there was a moment there where we could've been free from it entirely.

But we are creatures of habit, and money is always messy. The bureaucratic middlemen crypto had initially sought to eliminate quickly figured out ways to get back in the game. Trust fund babies and stock bros — people who weren’t invested in the promise of crypto, but rather the trading potential of it. Stock prices are predictable: rise, fall, rise, fall, rise, fall. So, when decentralized currencies like Bitcoin become tradeable, it opens the door for people to uniquely manipulate that process. Value is dependent on the exchanges between users, and those who are seeking to ‘get rich quick’ will be successful in their pursuit. The anonymity of crypto and its sole reliance on users were exploited by those with extreme financial means to create a foolproof way of getting and staying rich.

Step 1) Tweet about a crypto stock potentially becoming lucrative. Step 2) Buy a shit ton of it. Step 3) Watch everyone else do the same. Step 4) Sell right before the downturn. Step 5) Repeat.

This form of immediate, formulaic wealth is unprecedented. Pump-and-dump scheme. Such formulas are illegal in regular stock trading, but flourish under the nonexistent FCC regulation of crypto markets. Today, there are upwards of 20,000 decentralized crypto currencies, the trading of which produced seven new billionaires in the last year alone.

Code isn’t cash — and because institutions weren’t printing it and putting it in our hands, we got greedy. The limit does not exist. So we tried to do what they’d always done – control it. But that’s missing the point entirely. Under capitalist pressures, crypto can never thrive as the anarchist online banking avenue that it was originally conceptualized to be .

Crypto wasn’t originally deceptive. It was the escape from heavily surveilled online banking, meant to preserve the aspect of human interaction and agency in the age of cyber cash. But these unregulated fantasies are impossible within the structural confines of capitalism; we commodify everything, everywhere, all the time, because that’s what it teaches us to do. Crypto is an example of the most dangerous aspect of our financial future: legitimate avenues for independent monetary transactions being manipulated and hoarded by the top 0.001%.

Capitalism extracts the humanity out of everything. As long as we try to contort human innovation so that it agrees with capitalist principles, we’re trapped in an endless cycle, where our future is destined to be as ‘messy’ as our past. ■

By: Carolynn Solorio

Photographer: Ellis Brown

Models: Rhionna Jackson & Brandon Akinseye

Stylists: Saturn Eclair & Jesus Del Real

HMUA: Gabrielle Duhon

View the full spread as it appeared in Issue No. 19 here.

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