For those who spend time on the internet, particularly hanging around effervescent pop-culture news nodes like Reddit, pictures of a funny-looking dog and non-sequiturs like “wow, such lol” written in brightly coloured Comic Sans are probably verging on old hat by now. The adorable and amusing “doge” (it’s pronounced kind of like “dough” with a “g” on the end) meme may be a reliably weird source of share-worthy online humour, but the Shiba Inu puppy that launched a million Likes has gained equivalent fame as the face of an emerging trend in cryptocurrency. Building on the premise of its better-known sibling Bitcoin (which has proved influential enough to feature on CNN and to be name-dropped as the currency of the future on sci-fi television shows), the “Dogecoin” has evolved a uniquely social function: it turns the day-to-day blur of appreciation, interaction and informational transaction that defines the modern web experience into a dynamic source of real-world capital.
We may all be familiar with the experience of reading a friend’s newspost and expressing our mutual interest, admiration, or (at the very least) acknowledgement – by clicking Like, upvoting, sharing, and so forth. But what if you could leave your friend a tip instead? This is precisely the question posed by Dogecoin, a currency whose value is driven by the ebbing and flowing attention spans of online communities and the raw computing power that they can bring to bear. Posting something cool (say, a cute puppy photo) and getting a whole bunch of Likes or upvotes is one thing, but the surge effect of online crowd mentality can be illustrated in eye-opening ways when real money gets involved. In recent months, Dogecoin users famously raised the equivalent of more than $US30,000 on the strength of their collective desire to see Jamaica represented in the Bobsled events at the Sochi Olympic Games. Shiva Keshavan, a luge competitor from India, was the beneficiary of nearly $7,000 worth of similar donations. In short, Dogecoin’s smiling Shiba has become the unofficial mascot for groundswells of online charity and goodwill. In the spirit of such crazily dogged optimism, the currency’s supporters have adopted a fitting motto: “To The Moon!”
Blame pop culture silliness (and possibly an irrational fondness for the Disney film Cool Runnings) all you want, but events such as these have begun to write new definitions for the value of cultural capital as it can be measured in the age of social media. Dogecoin’s market capitalization (as evaluated at the time of this writing by CoinMarketCap.com) is estimated at a rather astonishing $69,642,474 – as each virtual coin is worth approximately one fourteenth of a real-world cent, some napkin math indicates that more than 50 billion of these tiny social experiments are rattling around in the digital wallets of the world at this very moment.
It is true that cryptocurrencies face significant obstacles to their growth and development. Volatility, in particular, is viewed as the curse of such systems: the value of industry standard-bearer Bitcoin has swung from near nil toward dizzying heights and back at speeds that would make traditionally-minded investors recoil in horror, and long-term predictions for the performance of the crypto market are difficult to establish. Dogecoin itself has not been immune to such troubles, though its users may not be overly concerned in the end – many Dogecoin devotees have pledged to hold and grow their portfolios no matter how rough the market waters may be, citing their belief in the highly democratic and uniquely web-friendly benefits of digital currencies. Though cryptocurrencies may exhibit some compelling theoretical features – such as the ability to lessen the damaging effects of exchange rate sensitivities for small businesses conducting international orders – the growing ranks of Dogecoin investors seem content to embrace their currency’s charitable, absurdist and parodic origins rather than hurrying to exploit it for profit. It is an example of the force of online consensus, and has made our ability to show support and interest in new causes and unique ideas tangible in ways that traditional social media simply are not – for even if a picture could get a million likes, what would it truly achieve?
Fortunately for those readers compelled to try their hand at crowd-powered online finance, Vancouver has the distinction of being the first real-world location in which Dogecoin can be purchased. An ATM-like prototype kiosk (next to a similar device that makes Bitcoin transactions) is now located inside the Waves Coffee House on Howe St., where anyone can easily convert dollars into doge. Though you may not be able to pay for your Americano with them just yet, virtual currencies are likely here to stay, and will no doubt form part of the conversation as the global economy moves ever more toward realizing the full potential of e-commerce – an environment in which Dogecoin reminds us that an occasional splash of levity can have groundbreaking effects all its own.