Don't think of currency, but "current-sees". How do we recognise different flows of value in our society? Art Brock knows


We had a head-spinning meal the other night with Art Brock, co-founder of Holochain (along with others) We’ve profiled Holochain before here on this blog. It’s part of the discussion that arising in digital culture - triggered by the rise of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether - which goes under the title of the “distributed web”.

As the title suggests, this means it’s not the concentrated web - which is what people have been disheartened about in the last 5 years, as the original openness of the internet became subject to the monitoring (and sometimes controlling) power of big corporations and governments. Yet the idea that you should now go through your digital life lurking behind the defences of cryptography - always assuming you have to protect yourself from the powers that be - seems much a less sociable and creative existence than before.

How can we become more “sovereign” over our own data, in the prying and monitoring age of GCHQ and Mark Zuckerberg? Yet how can we also be connected enough to enjoy the great sharing and creativity that our lives on the web has brought us?

What we (think!) we understood from Art Brock the other night was that Holochain - but particularly the software world and philosophy that sits behind it, Ceptr and Meta Currency - is the software arrangement that can give us the best of both security and connectivity.

Art asks us to change our dominant metaphors that we use when we think about money as a system. Imagine it not as a transaction, but as tapping into a flow. Not a currency, but what Arthur calls a “current-see” - a fine-tuned ability to see different kinds of value moving around us, not just monetary.

So our light bulb goes off at the Alternative UK: is Holochain a way for communities and localities to use software to mutually build up trade and interaction among themselves? Not just a single “local currency” (the Brixton pound, the time bank), but a range of “flows” (meaning not just of economic activity or material energy, but of care, or art, of food appreciation…)?

We asked for really practical examples of how holochain could support different flows of value in a community - and Art told us to hang fire for a few months, and then a few “user-oriented” applications would start to appear. We look forward to them (in fact, we’ve just found a Holochain currency based on the waste-food from farms). But listen to Art talk about “current-sees” on Ruskhoff’s Team Human podcast - more insight there.

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If you look around the cryptocurrency and blockchain scenes, there is a lot of not just political, but even civilisational ambition - a belief that completely new societies (or in the preferred geek language, “social operating systems”) are waiting to be forged. Arthur’s ambitions for his system are rooted in his own, non-tech, people-to-people social enterprise - for example, see his Agile Learning Centres, a rapidly expanding network of self-learning micro-schools.

One of Arthur’s peers, Micheal Haupt, is piecing together a vision he calls “Society 4.0” (very techie), aiming at a calendar date of 2030. It’s heady stuff. But a lot of it places great faith in democracy happening at a much lower scale. Haupt believes much of the available resources in a society and economy can distributed through systems that give citizens the primary authority of decision, and not a higher layer of big institutions, particularly government and finance.

“Reputation” seems to be a big element in assessing whether you can fully participate in such a society - and that as something calculated by your online behaviour, which is then directly linked to your civic identity. Some might say (somewhat desperately) - aren’t we already there with credit ratings and other automated assessments of our performance? Doesn’t the “computer say no” to us rather more often than it says yes?

Much to iron out here. But it’s fascinating to talk to and be with these crypto-radicals. They have taken a kind of digital-anarchist suspicion about the irresponsibility of big systems, and are using as an excuse to return to the fundamentals of power, voice and action in our societies. We want to stay in touch - and hope that it increasingly makes sense to us (and you)...