Today is Super Bowl Sunday, and though I could write rapturous odes about the dip that is one slab of Velveeta and one can of Ro-Tel in a Crock-Po t— and I will not hear ONE WORD of argument that a better dip exists – that is about the extent of my expertise on the Super Bowl and football in general.
Instead, let’s discuss bitcoin! Talk about an area of expertise! One that has inspired me to Google “What is bitcoin?” multiple times over the past eight or nine years because I keep forgetting, followed by “Nope, still don’t get it” and “Maybe use smaller words?” and “Try comparing it to something I DO understand, like peanut butter sandwiches or my bike.”
Anyway, bitcoin is in the news once again this week following the recent GameStop/Reddit/hedge fund/Wall Street/Robin Hood? Was Robin Hood somehow involved? Or maybe Little John?/trading situation that made for some incendiary headlines followed by three or four paragraphs before I started feeling dense.
Apparently, bitcoin is “up” following that whole situation. We’re talking it’s above $38,000, according to one story I read, and what can I say? That’s a really expensive coin. So, let’s have a helpful Q & A:
Q: Seriously, what is bitcoin?
A: I can confidently tell you, from the most recent time I Googled “What is bitcoin?” that it’s a “cryptocurrency” or “digital cash.” It’s important to put these terms in quotation marks so that, on the off chance you get “Emperor’s New Clothes”-ed and someone points out that this sounds insane, you have plausible deniability.
Q: So… it’s internet money? Not an actual coin?
A: Kind of! I think! Let’s turn to no less a trusted authority than the BBC: “Each bitcoin is basically a computer file which is stored in a ‘digital wallet’ app on a smartphone or computer. People can send bitcoin (or part of one) to your digital wallet, and you can send bitcoins to other people.”
Q: So, basically the crypto-economic version of cat GIFs?
A: And just as welcome!
Q: Can you buy actual stuff with bitcoin?
A: Seems like! According to the questionable source cointelegraph.com, Burger King in Germany accepts bitcoin payments and encourages (I would imagine) people to avoid cheap “Der Whopper” jokes. So does AT&T, apparently. And overstock.com, among others.
Q: How do I get bitcoin?
A: Again, per the BBC, you can buy it with “real” money, and then navel gaze for several hours over having just used the term “’real’ money.” You can also sell things and let people pay you with bitcoin. Or you can create it using a computer.
Q: I can just up and create bitcoin. In much the same way I’d create a cat GIF.
A: I mean… yeah? Though I don’t think it’s that easy. Apparently, this whole bitcoin deal is an interconnected system, so you can make your computer process transactions for everybody. But we’re talking Euclid- or Pierre de Fermat-level sums.
Q: You just Googled “famous mathematicians,” didn’t you?
Q: Point being, this isn’t grocery list arithmetic?
A: Exactly! Your computer does all this complicated math and maybe you get a bitcoin as a reward. Some people can make their computers do math for actual YEARS before getting a bitcoin.
Q: Why is bitcoin even valuable, then?
A: It’s valuable because we assign it value, because people are willing to accept it as payment for goods and services. Kind of like how Roman soldiers got paid in salt, I think, or how people want to pay you with “exposure” if you do anything creative for them.
Q: What was that $38,000 you mentioned earlier?
A: Well, according to the internet, this week one bitcoin equals $38,000 U.S. dollars. Some say this is because Elon Musk tweeted something about bitcoin, others say this is because we live in bizarre times in which most people feel confused approximately 87 percent of the time.
Q: But if you’re buying bitcoin, who are you even buying it from? Like, who’s in charge of it? The internet hive mind?
Q: And what if something happens to my “wallet,” like my computer crashes or something?
Q: And why are some countries banning it? And why do I keep hearing the word “volatile” associated with bitcoin? And is this the future? Can I still write checks in the future? And enrage everyone in line behind me at the grocery store? Is there even cash in the future, which is something I have mixed feelings about because seriously, cash is really just the cootie vector in my wallet, so gross to even consider all the hands that have touched it? IS EVERYTHING CONFUSING IN THE FUTURE???
A: You know what? Let’s just have some of this delicious Velveeta dip and I’ll tell you about my bike.
Rachel Sauer is at email@example.com and would be grateful to hear yet another explanation of what bitcoin even is because truthfully? She doesn’t get it.