My bitcoin journey began with a date.
Picture this. The bright, hustling, bustling city of Vancouver throws together a bitcoin trader doorman and an unsuspecting student, in a love story for the ages. Makes for a good plot, right? Alas, the romanticism ends here, and whilst we watched bitcoin documentaries and sipped cocktails together, I eventually gave up on the doorman once my freshers activities picked up and the university workload increased.
But just as I was intrigued by that handsome doorman, so too was I captivated by the idea of bitcoin. Although I’ll never see that doorman again, I do get the feeling I’ll see a lot more of bitcoin in the future.
There was, however, still a part of me which couldn’t help but think what might’ve been with a potential and budding bitcoin boyfriend. It was when I desperately wanted an excuse to speak to him that I set up my own account on localbitcoins.com, a market for bitcoin trading. And thus my plan of action began. I figured I could ask him technical questions, gain an interest, and then, suddenly I might just have some extra knowledge and a cute doorman under my belt. I spent a whole morning verifying my identity, attempting to buy bitcoin and feeling extremely creepy. But a problem with my bank account meant I lost the patience to pursue the idea any further, an idea I began to deeply regret when the price of bitcoin skyrocketed.
My infatuation has been rekindled since.
In order to truly understand bitcoin, it seems a whole list of words such as “blockchain” and “mining” must be adopted, however, at its heart, bitcoin is a digital currency which uses encryption to regulate currency and transfer funds. The currency sets itself apart from others through its de-centralised ideals; a sort of bottom-up approach to money which exists independently from a central banking system. Anyone can buy the digital tokens – their smallest fraction is the “Satoshi”, named after Satoshi Nakamoto, the cover name for its mystery inventor. At the time of writing, 9,125 Satoshi is approximately equivalent to 1 US dollar, so if Bitcoin gains you nothing else, it will make you feel incredibly rich. In a similar way, if bitcoin wasn’t associated with billionaires and speculators, it could well be seen as a grassroots critique of capitalism.
“My love affair ended, but my infatuation with bitcoin didn’t.”
Just as I was using localbitcoins.com, there are many other digital places to buy and sell the virtual currency. Coinbase seems to be the most popular, with the number of accounts shooting up from 5.5 million in January to 13.3 million at the end of November 2017. Nathaniel Popper, a technology reporter at The New York Times, compares Bitcoin to Wikipedia, maintained by a decentralised network of writers and editors. Anyone can access the blockchain and “mine” bitcoins, which is when new bitcoins are created. Nakamoto set a limit of 21 million bitcoins however, which is why bitcoin is often compared to gold, a finite resource.
But what better way to investigate bitcoin than actually talking to real bitcoin investors? And why would others follow the Bitcoinmania trend? Surely they couldn’t have all fallen for a handsome doorman…
“I wanted a project, and it seemed like cool technology.”
It turns out that King’s, with its 26,509 students, and a myriad of weird and wonderful societies in all areas you could possibly think of also has a blockchain society. César Reig, President of KCL Blockchain Society and business student, has always loved investing. Less into the technical aspects of the technology behind it, he follows the fluctuations actively, checking his bitcoin several times a day. Despite his investor interests, his idealist visions for bitcoin seep through. “I think the idea behind bitcoin is incredible… The problem is that now people fail to see what bitcoin is and what it means, as its price is all people see in it.” Even Reig is still cautious of his new found love however and advises his friends and family “they should only invest what they are willing to lose.”
This caution echoes in Neel’s replies as well, who has taken his interest in Bitcoin cross-country for university. A first year Computer Science student, Neel belongs to the tech guys in the cryptospace and has been in the bitcoin game for a while. “Originally I mined them. It seemed like a cool technology at the time and I needed a project…”
Contrary to Cesar, Neel does not check his bitcoins regularly anymore and does not encourage friends or family to invest in it. “Most of my relatives see bitcoin in the news and expect massive short-term gain. This is an unhealthy attitude which causes users to either sell or forget about their bitcoin, damaging the long-term value and stability of the currency.”Before the mania kicked in, Neel used bitcoins to pay, but now says “they’re too valuable to use as a currency. It would be akin to paying for services with gold.”
“We need to talk about the elephant in the room.”
But perhaps bitcoin is more of a tainted gold and the elephant in the room must be addressed. As investor Ian* reveals, bitcoin is clearly linked to the illegal sector. Despite using it for trading purposes now, Ian stated that bitcoin pays the bills much better than a job at a grungy bar, with his original intent of buying bitcoin to purchase drugs online. In his undergrad years, bitcoin was a means to an end for Ian – the supplies to the embrace of alternative dance music and party culture. Through Silk Road, a now closed-down platform at the heart of the dark web, Ian was not required to meet the dealers in person. This kind of anonymity is welcomed at London’s 23 Paul Street as well, the first strip club in Europe to accept cryptocurrency as payment.
After Ian’s friend was sent to jail for drug possession, he left the shady corners of the cryptospace and started using bitcoin as an investment. He believes the real value of bitcoin has not been reached yet but, like Cesar and Neel, would not invest in it if he could not afford to lose. The anonymous investor sees bitcoin as the myspace of our decade. “We’re still waiting for facebook to come along.”
Tainted or polished, bitcoin seems to be the gold of our decade and the rush seems worth surrendering to. Whether it’s creating ambiance on a first date, feeding tech-hungry students or simply serving as an investment, it’s clear that bitcoin might just be a flirt worth checking out.
*We have changed Ian’s name in order to protect his anonymity.