In a past project, I imagined a speculative future in which you were paid in real life as your eyes scanned adverts in public spaces.
Inspired by heat eye mapping techniques and ethnographic observation, I imagined newsreels of users running up and down tube carriages on their morning commute, eager to earn a small portion of cash for their consumption of content.
Over the last few years, we’re seeing just this. It has become common knowledge that everything we’ve ever consumed, searched, recorded or shared has been collected in the form of raw ‘data’.
In exchange for ever-increasing personalisation and convenience, we’ve allowed tech into our heads, to discover what makes us tick, archive our experiences and monetize our lives.
You only need to look at Amazons new ‘Amazon fresh’ store to see the trade between convenience and privacy, in which cameras track your every movement in return for not having to interact with another human at checkout.
So the question is now, what would it mean to wrestle back control over our digital and physical lives, when we’re not willing to give up the dopamine released by the platforms that harvest them?
The answer could be social tokens.
Social Tokens are a form of cryptocurrency. I am not going to embarrass myself or you with trying to do the concept justice, if you’re not aware of them already here are some great references to learn the basics to some of the challenges;
For me, in short, when thinking about social tokens, it’s the ability to create a token that has ‘real’ value but is based on the reputation of an individual, brand, or community which is the mind blowingly powerful concept. This revolutionises the concept of brand loyalty, ambassadors and what it means to be a ‘fan’.
Going even further, another dimension of social tokens, is our interactions being rewarded within the community, an example of this is a platform like Yup, which is creating the ‘over web which pays you for your interactions with any possible website’ or Steemit where posts similar to tweets can earn you money.
Currently, there are use cases for social tokens, mostly developing around the creator and curator economy; from NFT’s to micro-entrepreneurship and influencer self project funding.
As we’ve seen in the explosion over the last week, NFT’s have dominated the creator conversation, with artists rushing to platforms like “The Foundation” and Zora, to mint NFT’s ‘so that artists can take control of the value of their work’
A brief note on WTF is happening with NFT’s
On a side note, briefly exploring NFT’s; and the more recent controversies, as they’re pegged to revolutionise the creator industry.
What does it mean to own a piece of the internet, and the paradox of digital scarcity when anyone else can right click and share it instantly?
What does it mean to own a meme? When millions of others share it every day, and the origins of creation are mostly contested?
What does it mean for understanding plagiarism, and the value of pixels in a screen, compared to brushstroke on a canvas?
What does adding scarcity to digital artwork mean, when there previously was none? What’s the true damage it will do?
These questions are significant, because as the creator economy continues to explode, and the ‘influencer class’ becomes the mass, concepts like NFT’s challenge our ideas of value the world.
I’m not even going to talk about the £50 million dollar sale for NFT’s we’ve just witnessed through one of the most prestigious auction sites in the world…you can learn about it here though.
And with that challenge will be an entirely new wave of thinking, where money becomes more conceptual again, we’ll see developments akin to when the iPhone launched; we had no idea the GPS inbuilt would lead to things like Uber & Deliveroo.
The rise of the human IPO?
Back to social tokens, another interesting development is this area is the idea of ‘personal tokens’.
$ALEX was the first-ever Ethereum personal token sale, based on the value of Alex Masmej. He describes it as the first Human IPO, and as his value increases, so will the token. He’s even created perks and opportunities for investors to ‘choose his life, as well as receive a portion of his future income.
So where do personal tokens and social tokens overlap, humans are inherently social beings, and Human IPO’s cannot escape that, especially investments based on speculation.
So what if you invested in $ALEX, but don’t like his recent behaviour on social media, or what if you don’t like his lifestyle or his choice of breakfast?
What if your view of him personally prompted you to emotionally sell your investment at a loss as you don’t want to be associated with him?
What if Alex’s personal tokens inspired a generation of Human IPO’s?
What if you could fund your university education through the creation of tokens, with others investing to achieve or attain certain goals?
What would this mean for ideas of self worth and self esteem? What unforeseen pressures could this create for students or athletes?
What would it mean for brands to get involved in human IPO’s, essentially an evolution of sponsorships or bursaries?
What if you could trade your social tokens with friends? How would this change real life relationships?
What if this human co-ownership replaced current models of crowdfunding like only fans or Kickstarter?
What could this technology mean for brands?
What if brands created these types of social tokens, and minted digital versions of their products?
How would this idea challenge the concept of brand loyalty and brand ambassadors? Would it threaten or strengthen the concept of ‘brand’?
Could this become a financial representation of cancel culture?
What if social tokens could hold brands accountable for their promises and behaviours? The same away $ALEX is held accountable for his?
It’s questions like these that are important to explore for our NextGen consumers, those who have grown up with digital currency within their video games, crowdfunding their self produced music videos and launching their first businesses at 14.
For those consumers social tokens might be the way to wrestle control back over their data without even thinking, from surfing on the internet using Yup to creating a funny meme and minting it with the hope it will go viral.
We may not need to run up and down tube carriages scanning adverts in the end, because the reality is our true value and attention is digital, and social tokens may become the way we interact with this world, whether that’s with a friend, influencer, community, platform or brand.