I’ll start the story of my Ryde by quotting my first blog post ever (back in 2005):
Opening #1: In 2003 my father gave me two books to read: Interest & Inflation Free Money, by Margrit Kennedy, and The Future of Money by Bernard Leitaer. For me these books were one-way doors. Once I’d stepped through, there was no going back, because suddenly I understood three things: 1) money was a human invention 2) this particular invention is foundational to all human social patterns 3) we can change it, and there-by change our social patterns. Thus, I became open to a huge new possibility.
The consequence of this opening was two-fold: first, that I became involved in a local currency project (one that never got off the ground), and second that I was invited on the board of the E. F. Schumacher Society, a small non-profit that for decades had quietly been working on many decentralist economic efforts, including local-currency efforts, which has now grown and become the New Economics Institute .
Opening #2: Michael Linton. I knew of Michael before the conference from my reading, as he is a pioneer in the community currency world, well know for his design of LETS, one of the most widely deployed community currency patterns. But at the conference Michael was talking about his ideas for open money. I daresay few people at the conference then, or since then, have understood the import of what Michael was sharing. He was explaining, as a unified vision, the necessary aspects of how the structure of money could to change. Namely that 1) money is information, 2) the pattern of flow of that information in relation to communities should be circular, i.e. issued within the community so it would flow around it, not through it as happens with moneys issued outside of communities. 3) That there must be a rich ecology of currencies appropriate to each communities circumstances. 4) That these currencies must exist in the context of a network that emerges out of an interplay between communities of function (what people do together) and communities of identity (how people see and name themselves). Michael was the first person I met who was thinking coherently on this level and actually trying to build a system that addressed these issues and was designed to scale. Over the next few years I came to work closely with Michael on the open money project.
Opening #3: Michael introduced me to Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety, and to Reed’s Law of Group forming Networks. These two “Laws” are both fascinating and deep, and they clearly apply to money and currency systems. Single national currencies fail to provide the systemic regulatory variety necessary for a healthy economy. Also, a multi-currency network would be an incredible group-forming network. But the real opening for me was not so much in the laws themselves, but in that they both point to the fact that in networked and cybernetic systems, new ways of thinking are necessary, and the results are surprising and non-intuitive.
Opening #4: Jean-François Noubel. At the Local Currencies conference Jean-François was sharing his work on Collective Intelligence. This work identifies and describes the evolution of the forms of collective intelligence from “original collective intelligence” through where we are now, which he calls “pyramidal collective intelligence,” on to the possibility of “global collective intelligence.” In his work, Jean-François also focuses on “invisible architectures,” those patterns that, mostly unconsciously, regulate our lives. One of the most crucial that he identifies, of course, is the monetary system. Looking at the world through the this opening, the lens of collective intelligence and invisible architectures, gave me, and continues to give me, not only a powerful explanatory rubric for how things are now, but also where they might go.
Consequences, phase I: I’m trained as coder (I have a B.S in computer science), but just before my father gave me the books that constitute opening #1, I had decided to give up coding. Over the years I had written a bunch of a good code that had made a bunch customers happy, but I didn’t feel like it was right. I wanted to be focusing on something that had a deeper impact. So I gave it up, and told my partner that I wanted out of our small dev shop. Well, after openings 1-4, I found myself right back in coding land. I knew that now I had the opportunity to try and implement software systems that could realize the promise of a new monetary system. This felt like impact. So this led to working closely with Michael to build a web-app that was pretty much to his open money specifications, and was meant to be a single server fully functional prototype to demonstrate what a networked multi-currency system would look like. That system is still operational and used in a couple of places. You can check the dev site.
Opening #5: The levels of Wealth and their relation to systems. This opening was sparked by Jean-François Noubel, who described to me a taxonomy of wealth. He had realized that money is a tool that focuses on building tradable wealth, but that tradable wealth is just a small subset of measurable wealth, which itself is a subset of acknowledgeable wealth. What I realized, is that those levels exist because of systemic truths, i.e. that each level of wealth corresponds to levels of systemic integrity. That tradable wealth corresponds with parts and products of systems, and measurable wealth corresponds with properties of systems as a whole, and acknowledgeable wealth corresponds with relationships between systems. Here is where I first wrote about all this: http://openmoney.info/sophia/.
Opening #6: Arthur Brock, flow and current-see. The opening about the levels of wealth came pretty much at the same time as I was also deepening my association with Arthur Brock who I had first met at the Local Currency conference. When I met him at the conference he was championing what he called “targeted currencies,” special purpose currencies for solving particular community problems, rather than general purpose exchange currencies. Arthur had been using the metaphor a the electromagnetic spectrum, comparing monetary currencies to visible light, when there was actually much larger range of currency “frequencies” that were available to solve other problems. But it wasn’t until I came to understand Art’s deeper definition of currency, as “current-see” or formal information systems that allows us to see and interact with currents, flows, that the things really came together. These different levels of wealth, corresponding to the levels of systemic integrity, also needed corresponding currency types, to manage the different types of flow that are taking place at those different systemic levels.
Consequences, phase II: Openings #5 & 6 showed that my first open money system wasn’t enough, that as well as being able to create new currencies in the network environment, that it would be necessary create multiple types of currency that operated very differently depending on which level of wealth they were targeting. I wanted to build a generalized “wealth acknowledgement” system. And I also wanted to try my hand at building a system that would be client-server based that would allow multiple servers to play and thus be decentralized. At the time I met Geoff Chesshire who had also been working with Michael Linton and was building a currency system called Regenerosity, which used the idea of laying down what amounted to a social network graph to record the changing relationships in a community, which is essentially what monetary transaction are. Using these ideas I built a whole new system. Here’s an overview of the technical architecture (what I called the Mesh & Churn): http://openmoney.info/techne/overview.html, and the code I wrote to implement it is here: https://github.com/openmoney. A demo site is still up at: http://omclient.heroku.com/
Opening #7: David Abram’s “Spell of the Sensuous.” Abram’s book provides an amazing account of how we’ve shifted the locus of meaning from the natural sensual world to human constructed one in the form of our abstract alphabet. The opening came while reading his account of the evolution of writing. That description opened my eyes not only to how currency is very much like writing, but that it’s also on a similar evolutionary track, going from a very concrete representation form, “pictograms”, to a much more abstract one, an “alphabet.” We think of modern money as very abstract, most often just bits a banks computer. But what I realized, is that money is still very concrete, and just like pictographic writing. It’s not abstract at all because all moneys so far use the same encoding mechanism they always have for value: relative scarcity (just like all pictograms use the same encoding mechanism for meaning: shape) And that encoding mechanism is only really appropriate for tradable wealth where scarcity is a true for parts and products of systems. It’s not appropriate for the wider levels of wealth. What I saw is that we have no “alphabet” for encoding all the levels of value, and that’s what the open money system I’d been working on could evolve into. I’ve written a couple blog posts about this if you want to read about it in more depth: here and here.
Consequences, phase III: The rise of the MetaCurrency project, XGFL & the Flowplace. By this time, it was clear that I was interested in more than “money” because monetary currencies are those that apply to the smallest circle of wealth, tradable wealth. I was committed to working on what I was calling a “meta-currency” system that had a currency specification language that would be capable of representing wealth at all levels. So Art & I founded the MetaCurrency project to be a home for the tech protocols and know-how that would make this happen. Focusing on this problem from the currency-specification language point of view resulted in a design document that included the Simple Game Format Language (SGFL) which later became XGFL (X for eXtensible). This language was to be for currencies, as HTML was for web resources.
Opening #8: The evolution of expressive capacity. Unlike all the other openings I’ve listed, for this one I can’t pinpoint its source. Of course it builds on all the other openings, but there’s not a particular person, conversation or writing or even moment that I can remember where it arrived. I think its the product of all of us working together around the MetaCurrency project. I now see that all the previous openings were partial views of this bigger pattern. So, yes, money is information, and yes, its evolution is like that of writing, but here’s the deeper pattern: It appears that the greatest leaps in “novelty,” i.e. increased possibility that we know of, all arise because of the emergence of new embodied information encoding systems, what I like to call “expressive capacities”. DNA, neurons, language, writing, the printing press, computers, these are all examples, at various levels of complexity, of such expressive capacities that allow for a explosion of possibility that is unimaginable before their arrival. Notice that though they are all “revolutionary” some of these new expressive capacities are more revolutionary than others. The invention of writing and the printing press are extensions of the basic expressive capacity of language. But the arrival of language and DNA are much more, shall we say, foundational.
Consequences, phase IV: After this opening became clear, it was pretty obvious what the problem was with XGFL. It’s at the wrong expressive level. Expressive capacities are all built out of fairly simple nested composable units. Narratives are built from paragraphs, which are built from sentences, which are built from phrases, which are built from words, which are built from word parts, which are built from phonemes, which are built from phones. The rules for composability at each level are fairly simple, yet the variety of that which is expressible is infinite because of the combinatorial explosion. This same property works for all other expressive capacities, think of DNA and neurons, a small vocabulary of composable parts, mixable with definite meaningful grammatics. You see the pattern. Starting with XGFL to define currencies was like starting with a whole paragraph as the basic unit for a language. It was an expressive capacity without the necessary simple levels of composability. Here’s a blog post where I wrote about this. That post includes a diagram of a new architecture that we worked on for quite a while, but again, it didn’t quite feel right, until…
Opening #9: The Receptive Stance. In November of 2010, I flew to Denver for a working retreat with Art. The opening came early on in our working sessions. I have photo of the flip chart with the exact quote we wrote down when it came: “Composition requires creation of a negative space, i.e. receptors for an as of yet unknown interaction.” For so long we had been searching for some currency ontology, i.e. we were trying to figure out what the basic currency components were out of which we could build our flow language. This opening had us flip our attention, i.e. not to look for the parts, but to look at the negative space, the structure of containment that could allow for the rise of as of yet unknown parts.
Consequences, phase V: From this opening a whole slew of other things have emerged (and are still emerging). These consequences haven’t played out yet, so I’ll just say that it’s led to what we are calling the ceptr platform, as well as a strategic plan for rolling it out, which includes a very cool app call Streamscapes. Prototyping for both of these is at: https://github.com/zippy/anansi