§1.02 — It begins in a virtual theater, where a complex play is opening. The topic of identity is itself concealed, as if wrapped in an invisible cloak. It is nothing technical, or even theoretical, but rather the narrative propeller that comes first. “I’ve been working …” the hidden author tells us. The personal pronoun, we understand eventually – if not immediately – refers us to a mask, and to a drama that is yet to unfold. The great conceptual themes of anonymity and singularity first enter the stage, in casual clothes. (Extreme acuity would have been required to notice these themes already foreshadowed in the word “cash”.) This miniature story about time and ‘work’ means far more than it yet seems to.
§1.03 — After the play begins, space remains for a generic definition of Bitcoin – as a “new electronic cash system” or innovative techno-commercial (i.e. techonomic) synthesis, a ‘machine’ in the rich, rather than the narrowly technical sense (because it encompasses incentives) – and also for an initial (two-step) abstract specification of its operational principle, as a “fully peer-to-peer” or true network, which is itself succinctly defined through subtraction, or independence from any kind of “trusted third party”. The deletion of ‘third parties’ or quasi-transcendent overseers – as revealed, retrospectively, in this artificial future – has been socio-historical process, and not mere conceptual speculation. Much has happened over the span of our hypothetical elapsed duration. Boundaries between the inside and the outside have been redrawn many times. What were once scarcely legible hints are ‘now’ lucid indications of realized occurrences, accessible to public designation. Yet even back then – where we still are – it can only have seemed that a great deal was ready to be found. When these words were teased apart patiently, with the surgical tools of a philosophy that was itself – at that very moment – undergoing drastic revision, everything was already here, at least in conceptual embryo.
§1.04 — This short text is unmistakably a fragment about ‘Bitcoin’. It is destined to be still more so. The retrospective concerns of what remain, at the time of writing, unconsolidated interests will insist upon that. Yet the term appears only once outside the heading, in the second sentence, and even there it is not nakedly deployed, but is instead embedded within a hyperlink (or URL). This is surely sufficient excuse for an early digression. The familiarity of Internet links, after what has been, even now, only a couple of decades of wide social dissemination, tends to deprive them – as a general semiotic phenomenon – of the attention they would otherwise command. They are rushed beyond the horizon of awareness by their own smooth utility. The same high-speed familiarization is characteristic of technological adoption in the electronic era, whose futuristic strangeness is thus self-concealing.
§1.05 — Every URL is a technical implementation of rigid designation, which is to say that it works not by saying, but by pointing to some definite thing. It is thus the demonstrative confirmation of a semantic theory, but operationalized to such a degree that its implicit claim is rendered superfluous, through transportation beyond all meaningful controversy. It would be entirely redundant to argue that URLs work. The proper name of that thing meant by any URL can be compressed and mangled to such a degree that its signification is obliterated, yet it works (when – in the case of an ‘unbroken’ link – it does) as an effective invocation – by actually calling up that to which it refers. On the Internet, the conceptual problem of reference has been mechanized. To write using links is to participate in a literal machine. In multiple senses, therefore, it ‘represents’ a death of metaphor.