The hyperlocal side of cryptocurrencies

With the help of Derek Robertson

There is a new experiment underway in the bucolic mountains of Berkshire in western Massachusetts, one with implications for where and how cryptocurrencies might find their way into daily life.

At Berkshire Food Co-Op in Great Barrington, Mass., You can see which local farm grew your produce, collect an “eco-friendly mug with reclaimed wheat stalk,” and, starting with this harvest, pay for everything in cryptocurrency.

The currency is not Bitcoin, with its high carbon emissions, or the numerous private cryptocurrencies backed by venture capitalists. Instead, the cooperative is working with a pioneer of the field-to-table movement to use a technology often associated with unrestricted global capitalism for a different purpose: radical localism.

This spring’s launch of Digital Berkshares cryptocurrency marks the latest step in a decade-long effort to promote a self-sustaining economy in the Berkshire Mountains, a popular haven for the wealthy and educated Northeast.

As globalization continued its steady march, that autonomy remained elusive. But now, as the rise of blockchain technology requires a broad rethinking of money and a widespread push for de-globalization takes hold, proponents of the effort have found a new opening.

To exploit it, they enlisted the help of early adopters only in Berkshire such as a ukulele factory, a wandering jester and a prominent local witch.

But proponents of the currency insist it’s more than just a bizarre domestic project. The same technology that launched a thousand get-rich-quick schemes, they argue, can also help America’s rural regions get rich slowly.

“We are not involved in a three-year or five-year project,” said Susan Witt, superintendent of Berkshares, who, as co-founder of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, has been trying to break the dollar’s monopoly on American money since the 1980s. . “It’s more like a 50-year project.”

Witt has been closely involved in two previous schemes to launch a Berkshire alternative to the dollar, one of which is still around, and considered a hit in the dark world of local currencies. When he started attending cryptocurrency rallies, starting with the Bitcoin conference in Miami in January 2016, Witt, now 75, recalled being the oldest person in the room, dressed in pink amidst a sea of ​​hundreds. of young people in black. “I loved it,” she said she. “I was learning so much.”

Due to Berkshares’ status as a pioneer of alternative money, she enjoyed a little stardom among cryptocurrency enthusiasts, and Witt said she felt an affinity with some of the anarchist impulses – which fostered local control – that fostered development. of Bitcoin.

But he also looks suspiciously at the financial speculation and globalizing trends surrounding the technology, and said he turned down several offers to convert Berkshares into a cryptocurrency. But in the end he decided that his ambitions required him to go digital with Berkshares: a digital system would allow bigger and bigger transactions by generating detailed data on how the currency is used.

The result: Digital Berkshares went online in April with the launch of a smartphone wallet app, and is now one of the most interesting experiments on the basic use of cryptocurrencies as a true alternative monetary system.

For the full story and update on how he’s doing, read Ben’s message from Great Barrington on POLITICA Magazine.

Who is Sam Bankman Fried, and what is it doing to democratic politics?

POLITICO’s Elena Schneider answers this question in a profile today by the multibillionaire head of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, as she continues to allocate not insignificant chunks of her fortune to democratic campaigns across the country:

“… in the last year, he hired a network of political agents and spent tens of millions more to shape the Democratic House primary,” writes Elena. “It was a shocking wave of spending that looked like it could remake the Democratic Party bench in Washington, candidate by candidate. Looking at the 2024 election, he said he could spend anywhere from $ 100 million to $ 1 billion. “

You may have noticed a number missing from that ledger: 2022. Elena reports that Bankman-Fried is reluctant to make a big success mid-term, telling her that she plans to spend only about half of the $ 40 million she spent this year. primaries in general elections. (“Alone.”)

Bankman-Fried also cautiously defends himself from being too tied to the world of cryptocurrencies that helped build his fortune, and above all from being seen as such: “Despite not saying anything about crypto, and only talking about prevention. of the pandemic, to put it explicitly, ‘just to be clear, there is no crypto corner,’ there is no hidden crypto program here, “he told Elena. “If there was a mess, there was, I didn’t realize so early that I had to be extremely explicit and repetitive about it.” – Derek Robertson

Would-be Twitter competitors like it Peach or Mastodon usually followed a predictable cycle: a fair amount of hype followed by little as a lasting imprint.

A recently launched social media platform hopes to circumvent that fate by introducing a true Sui generisunpredictable element of the mix: cohost, an social media platform without advertising and algorithms which allows users to embed CSS in their posts.

For non-code-savvy people, CSS (short for “cascading style sheets”) is a language that guarantees visual quality to HTML input. It sounds dry, but it basically allows more creative users to co-host quick-loading interactive visuals within the browser: with a simple search after creating an account and logging in, I found a simulation of fridge magnet poem, Windows 2000 professionaland also a classic Game Boy Advance game.

The site was not built in particular as a platform for such gadgets – its stated purpose is to “give you ways to express yourself and stay in touch with your friends” – but their prevalence is a good reminder of how people use new technological tools like 3D art , the blockchain or even the boring old internet browser in this case, in unpredictable ways. – Derek Robertson

Keep in touch with the whole team: Ben Schreckinger ([email protected]); Derek Robertson ([email protected]); Constantine Kakaes ([email protected]); and Heidi Vogt ([email protected]). Follow us on Twitter @DigitalFuture.

Ben Schreckinger deals with technology, finance and politics for POLITICO; he is a cryptocurrency investor.

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