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Month: May 2014
You Bet Your Bottom Bitcoin: Crypto Currency And Other Ideas That Hurt The Analogue Mind
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Perhaps “can’t” is a bit strong, yet it takes truly getting old to truly understand how truly true this statement generally is…at least for most of us truly old dogs. As we age our brains tend to become less malleable and open to new ideas and thought forms. We can compare our brains to well-traveled dirt roads. Overtime they begin to form ruts and it is very difficult to operate a vehicle without falling into the well-worn tracks. A healthy brain is one that can navigate new parts of the road outside these ruts and forge new paths. However, imagine using those same ruts for 51 years and then attempting to navigate new parts of the same road. From a brain science perspective, it is very easy to understand why we can get set in our ways and dogmatic about our understanding of certain ideas and how we look at the world. Our brains get stuck in those damn ruts. It explains why some of your grandparents still have a phone landline in their home, no cell, and steer clear of the internet. Fortunately, one my greatest fears in life is boredom. I thrive on new experiences and ideas while challenging the mental ruts I often find myself. I look for news ways to forge new mental paths. When I was recently introduced to a new idea developed in the past few years, I found my brain having grand difficulty extricating itself from its deep mental ruts. I would like to either introduce you to the concept of “bitcoins” or the more general term, “crypto currency” (there are also dogecoin, litecoin, and peercoin) or -for you digital natives in the know- exhibit for you my extreme, though eager to learn, ignorance of it. If you are unfamiliar with this digital currency concept, it is a new form of electronic currency that was created in 2009 by an unknown person using the alias Satoshi Nakamoto. Transactions between crypto currency buyers and sellers are made with no middle men – meaning, no banks. There are no transaction fees and no need to give your real name. One simply carries a digital “wallet” and collects them through various digital transactions. One can buy and sell things, anything actually, between parties who accept them. I was truly having a very difficult time getting my 51 year, old dog digital immigrant mind around this new dog digital native idea. Therefore I began asking a lot of questions and doing some research. I needed to challenge the ruts and not dismiss this concept as something fringe or kooky simply to avoid my brain having to deal with a new concept outside my comfortable and well-worn tracks and valleys. My first question: How much value does a bitcoin possess? Answer: However much we, collectively, want to give it. Huh? Come on brain…out of the rut, out of rut, out of the rut. Join the crypto-currency-confused-as-hell club. As a slow learner who needs to figure how something works from the ground up, my analogue brain actually hurt trying to figure this entirely digital schema out. How could we base value on something that really does not exist? This seemed a rather odd notion until I realized this is exactly what we do with all our currency at present. A dollar is only worth what we as a society deem it to be worth -as we have not had a gold standard in about 60 years (meaning the dollar used to be tied to the amount of gold in the federal reserve). Because we have a well-established understanding of what a dollar is worth today we can collectively agree on its value, at least for the moment. In the same way words are only a medium for the meanings we have in our head, a dollar only represents worth, it is not worth. If I buy a loaf of bread for a dollar, that dollar is worth a loaf of bread. A year from now that dollar might only be worth half a loaf of bread. Having large collections of dollars provides us with absolutely nothing except the paper it is printed on. The importance of the dollar is what it represents such as food, clothing, cars, vacations, etc…whatever we buy with them as we cannot eat the dollar bill, wear the dollar bill or drive the dollar to work. So it is with bitcoin…the value changes from moment to moment pending on the collective worth we give to it. And rather than worth being represented buy a piece of paper, it is a digital representation -and if that digital representation is safe and secure? I am bitcoin ready and ready to navigate new tracks on the mental road. Today we have collectively decided one bitcoin is worth approximately $436 US dollars. As I think more critically about our contemporary currency exchange and system, I am awakened to the fact it is just as strange, arbitrary, and mysterious as crypto currency, it is just that crypto currency lies just outside of my well established ruts. Just as I do not understand some current economic systems such as the federal reserve, inflation, various monetary indexes, etc. and I do not stay up at night wondering, there is no need to understand the all the inner machinations of crypto currency either. I just need to make sure it is somewhat safe and viable. After all, you may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks thoroughly but at the very least they can comprehend the basics. Rather than scoff at a new and innovative system, this old dog wants to imagine the possibilities. Sure I may not currently understand how to mine algorithms, the elaborate mathematical equations associated with mining, or the complex formulas that make this a viable idea, and perhaps I never will…but that is not going to stop me from at least trying as I carve out new patterns in my brain and grasp these concepts. “Digital” may always be my second language, though we all can become good enough to be able to converse in it. You bet your bottom bitcoin. Now correct me you digital natives.