Money’s new abstractions: Apple Pay and the economy of experience

This article draws on insights from digital media theory and design methodology to contribute to sociological and anthropological understandings of money. It postulates the rise of a new money-form, or rather money-forms, referred to (in the plural) as experience money.

Money’s new abstractions: Apple Pay and the economy of experience
by Nathaniel Tkacz
Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, 26 Sep 2019
DOI: 10.1080/1600910X.2019.1653348

This article draws on insights from digital media theory and design methodology to contribute to sociological and anthropological understandings of money. It postulates the rise of a new money-form, or rather money-forms, referred to (in the plural) as experience money. The notion of experience money is developed through an analysis of Apple Pay, where I suggest that experience contains both economic and design qualities. Experience, that is, is both a way of thinking about and producing value, and a set of concrete design techniques for realizing such value. Each instance of experience money therefore embodies a distinctive ‘value proposition’ – an experience value, if you will – which forms the basis of differentiation and competition. While there is a vast literature dedicated to troubling and challenging the modern accounts of money and economy in terms of abstraction – from anthropology to economic sociology, social studies of finance or even behavioural economics – experience money poses new challenges for these empirically-nuanced theories of money. Experience money performatively incorporates and recodes the diversity and specificity of money and monetary practices as described by sociologists and anthropologists. It participates in the critique of (modern) money as abstraction, but it by no means does away with abstraction. The article concludes with a reflection on what money’s new relationship to abstraction entails for how we study economy.

Nathaniel Tkacz is assistant professor at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies at the University of Warwick.