Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Can a digital currency save our online culture? The Way of the Doge can make us all happy shibes.

Online culture is not particularly known for its niceness. Senseless trolling, merciless bullying, and relentless griefing are just some of the more prevalent examples of the kind of digital nastiness that we're all apt to encounter in the course of our online interactions. In fact, the problem of meanness in out internet culture is so prevalent that over half of today's teens have reported being the victim of cyberbullying, and roughly the same number have reported engaging in cyberbullying themselves.

And yet, cyberbullying is just the tip of the unsavory iceberg. Much darker things lurk in the recesses of the internet. Trade in illegal goods and services is conducted daily on the Silk Road and the Darknet, facilitated in part by the recent introduction of untraceable cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. And while these purely digital currencies themselves are certainly not the cause of crime via the internet, they have nevertheless come to be seem as symbolic of the dangers of anonymity run wild. It's little surprise that many have come to view such digital currencies as both inaccessible and even dangerous.

But what if I were to say that digital currencies could actually be the key to taking back our internet culture? What if they held the power to displace the meanness and bullying so prevalent in chat rooms and social media and replace it with a culture of kindness and generosity? What if there were a digital currency that had more to do with playfulness and joy than with cryptic and shadowy backroom exchanges?

Now what if I told you that such a currency already existed? It's called Dogecoin, and today I want to explain why I believe that The Way of the Doge has the power to change our online interactions for the better.

If it's somehow possible you haven't heard of Dogecoin, it is a new and wildly popular digital currrency, named after a silly internet meme in which adorable Shiba Inus speak their minds in sentence fragments and with restrained enthusiasm.  Originally created as a parody of more serious cryptocurrencies, in less than three months, Dogecoin has become the most popular and most highly traded digital currency there is. As Dogecoin enthusiasts might say, "So crypto. Many coin. Such popular."

So how has a currency that is only three months old managed to overtake in popularity Bitcoin, the world's first cryptocurrency, which has been around since late 2009?

For starters, Dogecoin was developed with the intention of being widely accessible. The coin's creator Billy Markus intended for Dogecoin to be the rare cryptocurrency that didn't take itself too seriously, and the choice of the doge meme as the iconic mascot for the currency makes that abundantly obvious. Doge is supposed to be fun and inviting, in other words, entirely the opposite of currencies like Bitcoin, which seem to be attractive mostly to computer scientists and those in desperate need of truly anonymous transactions. In other words, to very small and very individualistic community.

That choice to embrace openness and playfulness seems to have paid off for Dogecoin, as the culture that has sprouted up around the money backed by a Shiba Inu is proving to be just as welcoming and happy-go-lucky as the iconic dog itself. The biggest online community of "shibes" (as dogecoin supporters like to call themselves), currently lives on reddit. Despite the fact that the culture of reddit as a whole can often been described as abrasive, if not downright hostile at times, the dogecoin-centric subreddits are some of the friendliest places the internet has to offer. Newcomers to the r/dogecoin subreddit are routinely greeted with kind words and small donations of dogecoin, and even questions that have been answered time and again are treated with patience and respect.

Indeed, respect is an important part of the dogecoin community. And there is no greater sign of showing respect and appreciation that one can give in the doge community than by tipping one another.
Did someone made an insightful comment? Here, have 10 dogecoins! Did they make cool artwork for the community? So wow! Have 100 dogecoins.
As much as investment in dogecoin is a speculative money-making venture for some, dogecoin's greatest value at the moment is as a kind of social currency. Shibes want doge so that they can share doge with others. It's almost like shibes know intuitively what research is only just catching up with: when we give, particularly in a social context, we not only bring happiness to others, we bring happiness to ourselves as well. And the beauty of it is, tipping doge costs us so little, and yet the ripple effect that that small kindness has makes it valuable beyond measure.

Doge propaganda by redditor u/aBLTea.
This culture of generosity and inclusiveness  is undoubtedly the second key factor in driving Dogecoin's recent popularity, and it's what differentiates Dogecoin from other cryptocurrencies. And as long as doge continues to be fun to get and fun to spend, I think Dogecoin will be here to stay. However, as Dogecoin gains popular acceptance, it also tends to gain value, and I worry sometimes if Dogecoin's success might eventually end up being it's own undoing. Will shibes continue to tip freely if the value of Dogecoin can begin to be measured in dollars rather than in fractions of a cent? Will it be as satisfying to tip others Ð0.244 as it is to tip Ð10 now? In other words, will the giving culture of doge prove to be fleeting?

Whatever the future of Dogecoin, there's no denying that now is a wonderful time to be a shibe, and the real reason I'm taking the liberty of talking about Dogecoin so much on an educational gaming blog is because I believe that there are great lessons that can be learned by participating in the current doge economy. Not only can talking about digital currencies be a valuable way of increasing our and our kids' financial and computer literacy, but Dogecoin in particular has the added benefit of inviting us to participate in a community that believes in inclusiveness, respect toward others, and the joy of giving. Who could have guessed that one adorable little digital currency could do so much?

Of course, popular culture is fickle and internet culture even more so. It's possible Dogecoin could disappear just as quickly as it has risen. But I truly hope it does not. The Way of the Doge is showing us a way to be happier and more generous shibes, both online and offline. All we have to do is follow.

To the moon!

Have you invested in Dogecoin? Leave a comment below and tell me about your experience with the doge community. Are you looking to get started with Dogecoin? Message me on twitter @brainsforgames and mention dogecoins and I'll send you a tip!

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