The Twitter founder's vision could be paradise or hell on earth
Most of the commentary around Jack Dorsey’s departure from Twitter has focused around the company he leaves behind. There has not been much mention about where he’s going to.
Dorsey has resigned as CEO of Twitter in order to spend more time running Square, the other tech behemoth he founded. Now re-branded into a conglomerate called Block, this new empire could conceivably become more significant than the old.
Just as Mark Zuckerberg turned Facebook into Meta in order to better reflect Web 3 and the ‘metaverse’ concept that underlies it, Dorsey’s decision to turn the payments-processing systems of Square into a bigger world of Block represents another bold commitment from a tech grandee.
Dorsey has long been an out ’n’ proud Bitcoin guy. He delights in the idea of digital currency not only as a store of value, but as a genuine means of exchange: a currency of the internet. This is where his payments processor comes in — and where Twitter may, in time, come round again. Dorsey wants to combine social and electronic payments tech into a new social internet, where micro-payments are the very ground on which we walk.
The idea of micro-payments has been rattling around for ages. Ten years ago, there was a vogue for tipping bloggers via cumbersome plugins. Ko-fi or Patreon are latter-day versions. These days, YouTubers use ‘super chats’ — tips of generally between $5 and $50, paid through the comments section of live videos — to decide which questions to answer, or which comments to read out.
But what if that micro-payments structure was more than just a bit here and a bit there? What if the entire process of consuming social media was fuelled by a constant stream of tiny payments? This is the part of Web 3 that Dorsey wants to carve out for himself.
In the future he envisages, social media influencers might mint their own digital currency. To interact with them, you buy some of their currency. Then, everything, from how they interact to what subjects they discuss, becomes a function of that currency.
In some ways, this solves everyone’s dilemma. Content creators who’ve struggled to be compensated for their efforts can get paid. Advertisers can have a far more linear relationship with their consumers. We can all go off-grid to some extent — pay for our own moderation, rather than having to take whatever Twitter hands down from on-high. Perhaps it’s the ultimate Hayekian democracy — where individuals ‘vote’ for their political preferences through their pocketbooks.
Alternatively, this is the end of everything. It is the moment when God and Mammon are seamlessly fused into a Whore Of Babylon like no other. Where the attention-prostitution that social media has come to entail is real-time, and literally cash-lead. Where there is constant feedback between self and society, and nowhere to hide. A Bitcoin stamp on the face of a vlogger — forever.