“When Perhaps the Real Problem Is Money Itself!”: The Practical Materiality of Bitcoin
This paper investigates the semiotics of Bitcoin, an electronic cash system that uses decentralized networking to enable irreversible payments. For enthusiasts, Bitcoin provides an alternative to currencies and payment systems that are seen to threaten users’ privacy, limit personal liberty, and undermine the value of money through state and corporate oversight. Bitcoin’s promise lies in its apparent capacity to resolve these concerns not through regulatory institutions or interpersonal trust, but through its cryptographic protocols. We characterize this semiotics as a “practical materialism” and suggest it replays debates about privacy, labor, and value.