BitCoin. It’s all over the place these days, but the gap between the people who’ve heard of it, and those who actually understand it is pretty big. Now, one couple from Utah is attempting the ultimate experiment to learn just what BitCoin is, and whether or not it really is a viable form of currency, or just a fad for hackers and drug dealers.
Here are the basics on BitCoin: BitCoin is a social currency that isn’t owned (and for that reason isn’t guaranteed) by any one person, organization, company, or government. The actual value of a BitCoin varies wildly from day to day, but it has it’s benefits (not the least of which is it’s security and anonymity, which is what makes is so valuable to hackers and drug dealers). BitCoins can be used across the web to pay for a wide variety of goods and services. I guess the easiest way to explain it is that it’s sort of like bartering or trading. The value of the currency is set by the market, and it functions in a direct manner, person to person. If you want a much more straightforward summary of BitCoin, check out this short video from people who really understand what they’re talking about.
The idea of BitCoin is interesting, but while it’s fun to talk about, just how useful is it? Austin and Becky Craig, newlyweds since just last week, are going to find out by spending the first three months of their married life using nothing but this mysterious internet currency to pay for anything and everything. They know the idea is a little crazy, and that most people wouldn’t even consider it, but they also believe that it’s really the only way to truly test out the system. “People are already using PayPal and electronic payments in all different forms, so I want to see if it is a viable currency to use for every day transactions. For the things that we do day in and day out, and don’t really think that much about,” says Austin in an interview with AGtM. “The only way I feel to really put that to the test is to do what we’re doing, where we’re going to exclusively stick to that and figure out what tools are available.”
I don’t know if I can stress this enough: for the next 90 days, they will be buying absolutely everything they need with BitCoin. That includes the obvious things like groceries, or clothing, but it also includes things you might not think about, like insurance. It will even affect how they are paid for their work (both have successful freelance careers), and what they can do in their free time. “The biggest challenge for me is going to be the little things that I don’t think about. When a movie comes out and I want to go to the premiere of the next hottest thing, I’m going to have to figure out whether we can or we can’t pay for this in BitCoin,” admits Austin. “I like to run down to the corner and pick up a drink and a candy bar every now and then. Not going to be able to do that unless they’re willing to take BitCoin. It’s a lot of these little things. The major things we’re going to focus on we are gonna be trying to figure out right away, because if we can’t get groceries, and we can’t get gas in our car, we’re gonna be dead in the water.”
But there are other concerns as well, Austin explains. “The other thing is going to be the unknowns. I don’t know what is going to happen to BitCoin. The value of it could go way down, or it could go way up and then way down, it’s been pretty volatile the last few months. The other thing is going to be what kind of restrictions are going to arise around this. Because it’s so new, and because it’s so innovative, game changing, disruptive to the traditional way of doing transactions, it’s likely there will be some kind of action taken to try to regulate this market while we’re doing the experiment, and there’s no way I can predict that.”
Their goal isn’t just to try it out for themselves, though. Austin and Becky are teaming up with a group of documentary filmmakers to record their experience over the next three months, in the hopes that what they learn about BitCoin can help to educate the rest of the world. “If at the end of three months we find our transactions are smooth, and we can pay for pretty well everything then that’s great, and I hope that it promotes adoption,” Austin says, adding, “but one thing we might face is that it doesn’t work very well. That at the end of three months there are huge things we couldn’t figure out how to do. But again, that’s an unforeseen, we don’t know how it’s going to play out. Also, I hope to bridge the gap between the layperson and this technical community that’s super excited about BitCoin. Because I’m excited about it, but I am definitely not technical. I’m not a programmer, I’m not an economist, and I hope that at least by being involved in this documentary and experiment, that we can help bridge the gap between those two communities.”
Geek of the Week is an ongoing, weekly column where we feature a geeky individual or group doing something awesome, interesting, or innovative. If you’d like to nominate someone for Geek of the Week, just send an e-mail to [email protected]. You could see them in a future article!