Welcome to the thirteenth installment of Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle's nerdy new tech column. Not everything we cover will be queer per se, but it will be about customizing this awesome technology you've got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to favorite to any other fun shit we can do with technology.
Wouldn't it be nice if you could invent money? When one of my co-workers told me about bitcoin, my jaw hit the floor. Because basically, that's what bitcoin is. A programmer or team of programmers who goes/go by the name Satoshi Nakamoto did that in 2009. He wrote a program that would create and mine a virtual currency and bam, money invented. What's so special about this virtual money? It's entirely virtual – bitcoin is completely unattached to anything. No government. No gold. No nothing. These virtual coins are entirely anonymous and untraceable, like cash, which means they're frequently used to commit crimes. The software is open source, so anyone can view it to make sure it's not doing something nefarious, like starting the Robot Revolution.
First, you install the bitcoin mining software. Your computer is then like a miner that works for you – it does a specified amount of work to get you a bitcoin. It arose, according to Nakamoto, out of the financial crisis and his distrust of governments to handle and regulate our money. But then merchants began actually accepting bitcoin, like this crèpe place in Brooklyn.
The bitcoin fell out of favor a bit when some of the websites that manage virtual wallets were hacked and compromised. But the bitcoin software/code actually was not compromised. It was too good, thus giving me a little bit more faith in something that seems so unreal. Not even the best cryptographers can break it. But as a result, not as many places take it anymore.
I'm not saying we should all run out and convert all our dollars to bitcoins. In fact, I'm definitely not saying that, as the things you can buy with bitcoin are now very scarce. Its popularity really peaked in 2011, two years ago. As you know, I'm a huge fan of government. I generally believe that the government, and not the private sector, should be regulating our money. The thing I find interesting about bitcoin is that, with this software, it's really neither. The thing I find scary about bitcoin – it's basically run by one guy: Nakamoto. Who has since disappeared, saying he's moved on to other things. No one has heard from him since. And the thing I find truly scary – these coins represent nothing. Absolutely. Nothing. At all. But then again, neither does the US dollar anymore. We haven't been on a gold standard since 1971. So I guess for me, the thing that makes me the most uneasy is that the only difference between the currency we get paid and buy groceries with and bitcoin is a history of money having been attached to gold and silver. This history gives us faith. It's what's driven society to collectively decide that our currency has value. Weird, right? And yet I can't help shake the feeling that the users of bitcoin are all government separatists and conspiracy theorists, even though I know that to be untrue. Interesting to think about either way.
If you're curious, here's a link round up for all things bitcoin.
Who Takes Bitcoins?
Bitcoin in the News
The Rise and Fall of Bitcoin – Wired
Golden Cyberfetters – The New York Times
What's Your Bitcoin Strategy? WordPress Now Accepts Bitcoins Across the Planet – Forbes
The Crypto-Currency - The New Yorker (must have a subscription for this one)
It's such a fine thread of faith holding our monetary system together anyway, why not have totally virtual money? We basically already do. But bitcoin is limiting – it's basically a platform on which to buy computer parts and tee shirts. Will that change? I have absolutely no clue. All I know is I feel like reading this much about bitcoin has convinced me that bitcoin is the queerest thing to happen to money in a long, long time.