Wednesday, December 28, 2011

review season begins

Kirkus Reviews likes The End of Money!

"Alternating between in-depth reporting and personal rumination, Wired contributing editor Wolman (Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling, 2008, etc.) tries to figure out what a cashless society would mean and whether it is an idea whose time has come.
The author decided to live without spending cash for a year, but he does not develop that portion of the saga at length. Mostly he focuses on visionaries who are hoping, for a variety of reasons, to eliminate paper money and coins. Some of the advocates believe a cashless society would function more smoothly and reduce deficit spending. Others are more politically oriented, wanting to remove governments from printing/coining what has come to be called "money." In Iceland, Wolman looks at whether or not the citizenry will actually put an end to the national currency. In England, he mingles with deep-thinking reformers who discuss how to achieve a digital cash economy. In economies mired in poverty, including much of rural India, Wolman notes how cash transactions make little sense. In many economic circumstances, writes the author, writing checks against a bank account is both illogical in theory and costly in terms of savings lost. As the narrative progresses, Wolman riffs on dirty money (literally, since bills and coins transmit germs), the successes and failures of counterfeiters, the techies who have turned their smart phones into banks and many other twists spawned by thinking about money as a physical object. The author mostly keeps his biases masked, but he leans toward the belief that physical money is in its twilight. He has plenty of thoughts about what could replace physical money, but he is wise enough to understand that he cannot imagine all of the unexpected outcomes.
An intriguing book on a topic that many readers have always taken for granted: the cash in their purses and wallets."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

One Coin to Rule Them All

Is a universal currency ridiculous? Irresistible? Inevitable?

The euro zone maelstrom refuses to end. Thanks to the debt crisis, some Greek officials are contemplating dumping the common currency for the drachma. Meanwhile, Italy and Spain teeter. A decade after the shared currency was heralded as a 21st-century tool for peace and prosperity, it turns out that currency unions aren’t such a hot idea.

Not so fast, though. This is undeniably a period of epic turmoil, and many economists will tell you that sovereign states need sovereign currencies—full stop. But this notion ignores a fundamental truth: Countries with their own currency may have monetary independence, but in reality—as gun battles in Libya, CDOs in the US, and tsunamis in Japan have taught us—we are only becoming more economically intertwined, regardless of what our coins look like.

Read more of my latest essay from Wired

Friday, December 16, 2011

working with the atavist

The winter issue of the Harvard Nieman Reports is just out, and features my essay about what it was like to pitch, report, write, edit, and jazz up "The Instigators" for digital publisher The Atavist.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#egypt, #jan25, and the #superbowl

Last week Twitter announced that the most popular hashtag of 2011 was #Egypt. #Jan25, a marker for Twittersphere conversations about the revolution, was eighth on the list, just after #superbowl. Cairo and Egypt were also the most tweeted about places of the year.

The report reminded me of the following anecdote, which I reported in "The Instigators," as well as the broader point I tried to make to the journalists gathered for the GlobalPost / Open Hands Initiative fellowship in Cairo back in October: You never know who the newsmakers of tomorrow will be, let alone who will be influencing the direction of news coverage.

A week before the revolution, a 21yearold Cairo University student named Alya El Hosseiny was at home, sitting on her bed with her notebook computer, reading about Tunisia’s toppled dictator. She happened upon the Facebook event page for the January 25 demonstrations to be held in Cairo, and decided to post something about it on Twitter. “I looked around and couldn’t find an existing hashtag,” she told me later via email, referring to the handles that allow Twitter users to follow every post about a topic. “So I just made up something short and sweet. I thought it was temporary, until I found out everyone was using it”: #Jan25.