Funky Shit

The most important noun to understand is token.

In this place there are few terms more common or fundamental than this. We'll come back to wallets and keys, but not today. Because while those things are important concepts, they are only the tools for relating to tokens.

I won't attempt to provide a comprehensive description of the term's meaning today. It has far more breadth and depth to it than would be reasonable to cover in one go. I think it's enough to review our understanding of the word and illustrate how it's used differently here.

According to some half-assed internet research, a token is defined as:

(1) a thing serving as visible or tangible representation of a fact, quality, feeling, etc.

(2) a voucher that can be exchanged for goods or services.

With these two definitions in mind, here are a handful of examples of their usage which will sound familiar.

In a couple hours as I write this, my dude will ask that we stop for milk tea on our way home from school. Because we do this regularly, we have a frequent-buyer's card that is fully stamped. They'll hand over this token as evidence of our repeat business and be rewarded with a no-cost beverage.

Every pay period at the bar where I work the management hands out wooden coins stamped with the brewery branding. At any point I am able to exchange these tokens for beer. I cannot use them as currency to purchase other products, nor can I transfer them to anyone not employed by the brewery.

Tomorrow when go to the market I will take the empty milk bottles from my kitchen. The market will give me three dollars for each of the bottles returned. These dollars are printed with the description, "federal reserve note," as well as the phrase, "this note is legal tender, for all debts public and private," which is to say I can use these tokens to settle business with anyone who also has a relationship with the United States.

Finally, my father gave me a watch on my 40th birthday. Cultural tradition gave the gift meaning in marking the occasion in my life and his. At the time, he described it as a token of his love for me.

All of these examples should be familiar to you. They are all examples of the use of tokens in society. In this place, however, there are a new set of ideas about tokens and their capabilities.

First and foremost is that we now have the ability to create tokens with software, and such tokens can be both enumerated and scarce. It is only since the fall of 2008 that this was understood to be possible.

This is worth underlining. Before 16 years ago, it was functionally impossible for a collection of data in a computer system to posess these qualities. Ask anyone -- duplicating information has been a fundamental capability of modern computing since World War II. Copy pasta, baby.

So now we can create tokens with software and move them over the internet. Because facts are relatively new and novel, there is a great deal of unsettled thinking about how tokens can be used. Part of what makes this place so fascinating are the ways in which people are exploring what's possible.

For example, the creator of a token can decide whether there will be an unlimited number of them or a fixed number. And that decision is encoded into each token when they are created. Those decisions are then enforced by the computers used in this place. Rather than depending on active policing or regulating oversight, the tokens themselves do the work of guaranteeing predictable behavior.

Some tokens are interchangeable with others of the same type. Others are unique even within their collection. Similar to wooden brewery coins or cafe punch cards or US Dollars, some tokens can be used only in certain contexts, or they can be generally applicable in any circumstance. It depends on the decisions of the token's creator.

The last and most important aspect for today, in terms of how tokens work here, is this: every time someone or something interacts with a token, that interaction is logged and made available for others to inspect. In fact, there are people in this place who are dedicated to this inspection. And that work ensures that this place isn't going anywhere.

Dinner time in my world. Next time we'll keep going on tokens and explore some of the jobs they can do.



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