What are currencies?

Kaliya: What is a currency?

Jean: Currencies make the invisible visible. A currency is the thing being measured or seen. So… we are motivated by currencies to take actions…those currencies can be acknowledged, perhaps measured, and maybe even traded. We can think of currencies as anything that incentivizes a flow…

Kaliya: mmm… flow?

Jean: Let me share more currencies, so you have a sense of the spectrum.

Jean: So postage stamps are a currency, as are movie tickets. Postage stamps and movie tickets are both bought and then traded in. Airline miles are a tradable currency. Metrics for your company are a currency, but those are not tradable.

Kaliya: So, stamps are currency because when you put them on a letter the post office recognizes it and then agrees to send it on.

Jean: You trade in money, get a stamp, trade the stamp (get it marked) and it pays for the service of mailing.

Kaliya: In the tech side of the identity conversation we also call these “tokens.”

Jean: Yes, tokens. Usually when people talk about currency, they focus on the tradable forms, or even just specifically on money. But a currency like your grades might be measurable, but it isn’t tradable. You can’t give someone your grades.

Kaliya: Yes there was a whole thing with the US Mint and how people would buy $10,000 of one dollar coins on credit cards to get airline miles – they took the coins when delivered (free of charge) to the bank and paid the credit card bill.

Kaliya: ohh – so, measurable things are also currencies?

Jean: Smiley faces in social media are a currency. Yes. The height of CEOs is a currency.

Kaliya: How so?

Jean: We respond to height as power. It changes our behavior. We are more likely to have taller CEOs. And we can measure how tall they are. But they can’t trade their height to someone else.

Kaliya: mmm… so is skin color, in a culture that treats people differently because of it, also a currency?

Jean: Yes, skin color also acts as a currency. Having the appropriate skin color in a culture that sees that as a difference will afford you privilege (or restrict privilege).

Jean: There are currencies we can acknowledge or maybe sort, but we can’t measure them. Skin color isn’t really measurable, but we can certainly acknowledge it and probably sort it.

Kaliya: so currencies can be tradable, measurable, and acknowledged (but not measurable).

Jean: Right, these are concentric circles. So all currencies are acknowledgeable, some of those currencies are also measurable, and some of the measurable currencies are also tradable.


Kaliya: externally “seeable” – is that another way to understand it?

Jean: Yes, When I finally understood what a currency was, I had this matrix moment of seeing the whole world in a state of perpetual flow, and it was all being modified and directed by currencies.