What is money to the average consumer. Is it a means to get by? To purchase elaborate, expensive items online? Money today in this Millennial/Gen Z era than it was a couple generations back. Online consumerism has boomed since computers were available for the general public.
The value of money is much more fluid today in America as opposed to the past. Today money can be converted into digital online payments without ever holding a physical dollar in your hands. Banking these days has also evolved with technology. Someone can take their paycheck, take a picture with their phone and upload it to a mobile banking app, and about 3-5 days later the money is sitting in their bank account.
Another form of fluidity that came with advancements in technology was online transactions in videogames. Many games these days offer a way to convert your money into items that are not physical objects. Services offer a conversion from real money that you can put in digitally to credits in game. Certain services use different lingo to describe these credits for example the ever so popular game, Fortnite: Battle Royale, uses a currency called V-Bucks that are worth around $1 for 100 of these V-Bucks. This form of in-game currency means nothing outside of the community who plays this game. To the gamer (as they are usually referred to) it holds a value.
Some early versions of this concept include games like Counter Strike: Global offensive and Team Fortress 2 by the software developer, Valve. Items, that are purely cosmetic and give no advantage in these games, hold value based on rarity and condition. They can be traded to other people and sometimes even exchanged for goods and services. The sheer scale of this online trading service is almost as comparable to the NY stock exchange with market counters determining value of items every day, fluctuations in prices that can change on a dime, trading, flooding markets, etc. People never have to spend any real money to hold these items but it’s worth value that is tangible. Some items are worth anywhere from pennies to thousands of dollars. Which could buy the PC someone can run the games on.
Something that relates to this concept of fluidity can be described in the article, “The Island of Stone Money”, published by NPR. In the article they talk about an island in the Pacific known as the island of Yap. Their form of currency for years was these limestone disks, some as big as sedans. Limestone isn’t found on the island of Yap, so they send workers over to the neighboring island to mine it and polish it. The limestone isn’t worth something like bread or grain. It represents valuable items like dowries or supplies of food or months. These disks don’t even need to be in the physical possession of these islanders to hold value. Outside of the island these stones mean nothing but to the inhabitants it means everything. Again, you see these similar themes of a fluid market without holding any real tangible currency.
This tangible intangibility isn’t new for civilizations like ours either. From the earliest days in America gold coins were used. They held value for being made of a precious metal. People found ways to cheat the system by shaving of edges of coins to accumulate enough of it to be made into more coins. Eventually something had to be done to fix the situation, so the Silver Standard was created based on the Spanish milled dollar. Dollars could be exchanged for its value in silver. Fluid concepts aren’t unheard of, but things have gotten even more complex in the past 20 to thirty years since the internet was in its baby stages.
As technology changes and upgrades rapidly, money is going to become increasingly more fluid. Bitcoin is an online currency that has gained popularity in the last decade or so. It is valued like real money and can be transferred electronically to people. It is a global unit currency that can be converted into currencies of the nation. Someone can send 20 dollars’ worth of bitcoin over to someone in the UK and they can convert the money immediately into British pounds. But even bitcoin has a market that changes rapidly as time goes on. One day 1 bitcoin could be worth a couple hundred dollars and then it could jump up to a thousand dollars.
In the article “How Fake Money Saved Brazil” they mention that people lost faith in the past Brazilian unit of currency. It required a massive economic change to restore people’s faith in the Brazilian economic session. A couple college students who have been documenting the economic condition of Brazil were commissioned with the responsibility to create a system to help bring Brazil back. They created a URV or a Unit of Real Value. A gallon of milk was worth something like 1 URV. So the URV was worth 7.50 units one day and as supply and demand changed one URV would be worth different value based on the market prices. It got people to think about the fluidity of money and the changes in market prices for products. Giving Brazil an economic boost.
Throughout history money has always been fluid. Money isn’t just fluid in America either. Most other countries share a similar fluidity of money whether its value is a limestone disk, 1 URV, or 1 bitcoin. With advancements in technology in the past two generations money has only gotten more and more fluid and it shows no signs of stopping. With ways to purchase and trade money without ever holding a physical dollar in your hands our means of economic transactions are becoming much more complex. Eventually somebody may be able to walk into a store, pick up what they need, walk out and their money directly taken from their bank account without ever standing in line at a register. “Money, it’s a gas. Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.”
Bowman, Mitch. “The Hidden World of Steam Trading.” Polygon, Polygon, 22 May 2014, http://www.polygon.com/features/2014/5/22/5590070/steam-valve-item-trading.
Goldstein, Jacob, and David Kestenbaum. “The Island Of Stone Money.” NPR, NPR, 10 Dec. 2010, http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2011/02/15/131934618/the-island-of-stone-money.
Joffe-Walt, Chana. “How Fake Money Saved Brazil.” NPR, NPR, 4 Oct. 2010, http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2010/10/04/130329523/how-fake-money-saved-brazil.