Why Should I Care?
Often times, when people learn of my love for Bitcoin, I go through my first talks with them and get met with different variations of the same question: Why should I care? At first glance Bitcoin doesn’t really solve any problems for most people I know. But it’s often what you don’t see or what comes next that makes technology truly exciting.
People said electric cars wouldn’t work but now the Prius, a hybrid, is a best selling car and Tesla, full electric, sells more cars every year. People made fun of the Segway and it was arguably a flop initially, but the Hoverboard was this past year’s hot, must have Christmas item. Computers used to be a novelty and someone once said he saw no reason why people would even want a computer in their home. The internet was the realm of intellectuals and someone once said it was a fad that would die out.
Phones used to be connected to wires and everyone wondered why I wanted one in my pocket. Computers used to sit on desks and everyone wondered why I wanted to carry mine with me. People used to send letters on paper and everyone wondered why I wanted email. People bought things with checks and everyone wondered why I wanted a debit card. People used to borrow books from the library or buy encyclopedias and wondered why I wanted the collection of human knowledge brought to my home through a phone wire plugged into my computer.
And this goes on further back than my life. Someone once asked why the telephone was useful when the telegraph was just as good. Someone once asked why people would want a color picture on a TV. Someone once asked why people would want TV at all when they had radio. Someone even thought the radio was useless at one point. Someone once asked why people would want to hear actors talk in movies. Cars were seen as a fad that would die out.
Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.”
Even this list is too short. I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. An idea or item is usually seen as incomplete, too difficult, or unneeded. It gets better but it’s shunned because adoption is slow or time consuming. Then someone makes it easier to use or incorporate, more people get excited, and they make the switch. Then even more people feel left out and scramble to jump on board. Then, one day, even if the original product or idea was unneeded or frivolous it becomes a part of our culture. We all look back and wonder how we lived without it.
It’s true that in an affluent nation with access to modern banking and commerce systems Bitcoin doesn’t change much on the surface. Using online banking, bill pay, credit cards, and debit cards is just like using digital currency as far as most people are concerned. Why would someone want to go through the change involved in moving to Bitcoin?
Bitcoin puts you in control of your money. As long as you hold the key, you hold the Bitcoin. Nobody can take it from you unless you relinquish control. Your assets cannot be confiscated or frozen. Your transactions cannot be blocked or reversed. You say where your money goes or does not go.
You can use Bitcoin as little or as much as you want. If you choose to simply spend it like cash, that’s fine. If you choose to use it as an investment vehicle you have transaction records and proofs built right into the global online ledger, the Blockchain. It allows you to be the bank. You’re a micro bank, for sure, but still a bank. You have accounts you have to manage: spending accounts, savings accounts, loans, and even investments. In fact, owning Bitcoin itself is an investment.
And the whole system is peer to peer. You can do all this without someone in the middle. You don’t have to ask permission to join the Bitcoin movement. You don’t have to trust anyone to be involved. This eliminates discrimination. This also eliminates payment censorship. There is no need to wonder if your payment will make it to its destination. Once the payment has been broadcast to the network it is irreversible. Nobody can stop it.
Making a payment in person or across thousands of miles is absolutely no different, which makes the whole system much simpler. You punch in an address to which you want to send Bitcoin. You then punch in how much Bitcoin you want to send. You then approve the payment. Whether the payment goes to someone else at the same restaurant table or someone in a restaurant halfway around the world the result is the same. They receive the Bitcoin you sent them.
The speed of the transaction is the same as well, which is nothing short of incredible compared to the way the system works now. Again, if you send to someone walking down the street next to you or someone walking down the beach in another country, the initial notification of payment takes seconds and full verification takes about an hour. There are no business hours, no bank or national holidays, no translations from one payment system to another, and no arbitrary wait times to slow money movement down on purpose. The Bitcoin is sent from person to person with no banks, middle men, drop offs, pick ups, store fronts, currency exchangers, or anything of the sort.
The fees are extremely low compared to the current system, too. Once again, if you send to someone standing next to you on the bus or a family member standing outside a tourist attraction on vacation, the cost of the transaction is as small as pennies, sometimes even free. Without all the network controls, translations, middle men, and such, the costs are nearly non-existent.
This is all the same whether you’re buying a cup of coffee from a shop in your home town, a bag of ground coffee beans from a vendor in a farmer’s market while on a road trip, or a coffee machine from an online merchant based across the ocean. The payment process is the same, the speed of the transaction is the same, and the costs are the same. Now couple that with the fraud protection of irreversible push transactions and business becomes safer and cheaper for consumers as well as merchants.
And it’s not like digital money systems are new and untested. In kenya, for instance, money has already gone mobile with M-Pesa, which started in 2007. Participants in that system can carry money around digitally without it being easily stolen. They can pay between users with their phones. They can pay merchants and pay their bills. They can even trade M-Pesa for cash at authorized shops. And it all uses SMS, the same protocol we all use for text messages. This is like Bitcoin on a different protocol.
If we use Kenya and M-Pesa as proof that a digital money system can thrive and we couple that with the inherent superiority of the Bitcoin protocol we have a possible launch point for the world’s first digital, decentralized, distributed, global currency allowing for safe, fast, fraud resistant, low cost, relatively anonymous, transactions from anywhere to anywhere in the world without middle men imposing arbitrary rules, regulations, or controls. This is arguably the best monetary system ever invented.
So, why should you care? Would you rather stick with trusting your paper bits and plastic cards? Or would you rather possibly be part of a revolution of the global monetary and financial system?