Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Luddites dance in the streets and burn bitcoin nerds in effigy as Mt. Gox rumbles, explodes and then caves in

Okay, so twenty years ago – we could even make that ten years ago – the headline above would have
appeared to be written in tongues. But technology roars on.

In fact, it not only roars on, it roars over us, smashing, crushing, slicing, chewing up, and spitting out what used to be considered the human side of humanity at a fearsome rate.

Privacy? Forget it. Calling a company you do business with and having a helpful live person who speaks your own language and lives in your own country pick up the phone right off the bat? A quaint, ancient custom, now vanished. Fiercely expensive personal electronic equipment that doesn’t become outmoded and turn into a totally useless piece of junk that creates hazards both to the environment and to your private information? If you yearn for that,                        you must be old enough to be living on Social Security.

And now even our
currency is under fire.

Let’s walk this back a little bit. It says on every U.S. dollar bill in my wallet, “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.”

Oh yeah? Try to use your tender notes to get on a public bus in New York City. Tender paper notes aren't tough enough for today's technology-lubed economy. You’ll get laughed back into the gutter by impatient riders  on the bus waiting for it to move, or standing behind you waiting to get on.

It clearly irks the clerk in my local supermarket whenever I reach for my wallet to pay cash for a head of lettuce, a quart of milk, and a pound of chopped chuck. She has to take the money, clear it with her supervisor if I hand her a $20 bill or higher, make change, yadda yadda, while other people just swipe their credit cards. 

She usually gets even with me by hurriedly piling the receipt, loose bills, and oodles of loose pennies into my palm before I can stop her, one atop the other, and gloating when stuff starts falling on the floor and I have get down on my knees to pick it up.

And now, like the bubonic plague
comes the curse of bitcoin. And Bitcoin.

As if credit cards and debit cards weren’t doing enough to drive up the cost of living by forcing merchants, who pay a commission for accepting plastic, to raise their prices, even that didn't satisfy the finance nerds. They had to go and invent “bitcoin” and also “Bitcoin” (whether it’s capitalized or not changes the meaning, but they're related) – a way to pay for things with “virtual currency.”

I’m not going to explain bitcoin and Bitcoin to you. The whole concept is above my pay grade anyway. If you want an explanation, go here. And if that’s too complicated, try here, and also here. And if you still don’t get it –  or at least don’t get why anyone other than a drug dealer or Mafia money laundry would want to deal with it –welcome to the Neo-Luddite Society, brother or sister. Let’s grab us some sledgehammers and pickaxes and smash those, uh…

Y’see, that’s the trouble. There’s nothing to smash. There’s nothing to grab. The new money is strictly conceptual, represented by a string of ones and zeros that you can’t put in your wallet and carry down the street in your back pocket.

Am I truly a Luddite? 

You’d better believe it. Heck, I don’t even have a smartphone. I don’t twitter. I don’t tweet. I don’t do apps. I don’t even text.  I still take pictures with a camera.

In fact, the only reason I have a klutzy dumb cell phone is because the evil devils at Make-‘Em-Buy-It Central went out one night and vanished all the telephone booths from the streets of America. Now, instead of dropping a quarter in a slot, maybe once or twice a month when I need to make an emergency call, I  am forced pay ­– nickel-dime charges and taxes included – around $45 a month for a minimalist cell phone plan.

But believe me, if the B-coiners of the planet ever sell their bill of goods to a critical mass of gullible consumers, you’ll not only be paying for things with an outrageously volatile currency, you're also gonna yearn for the day when the cable company put you on hold for ninety minutes and then disconnected before you had a chance to say you couldn’t get Channel 2.

So you can imagine my joy,when the Bitcoin and bitcoin world was thrown into total chaos, after the collapse of Mt. Gox.

Mt. whut?

In case, like me, you’re just not into Bitcoin and bitcoin – or maybe now we can start calling it “bitcon” – be advised that Mt. Gox is not a science fiction description of a geological protrusion rising out of a steaming swamp and belching lava in a bad pulp novel, in which mechanical steel robot thingies death ray you from their eyeballs whenever their mechanical eyelids clank open.

No, Mt. Gox is a Bitcoin (or is it "bitcoin" in this case?) exchange, where people trade this synthetic currency. It is – sorry, was – the biggest bitcoin exchange of them all, until it evidently went belly up, reportedly the victim of its own slovenly security practices.

But until it collapsed, it was damn arrogant about how good it was. Here’s a recent quote from them, taken from one of their ads intended for international high financial mucky-mucks:
 These days it seems like everyone is talking about Bitcoin, the digital currency that is revolutionising the way people think about money, trade and transparency. Mt. Gox offers a secure and reliable multi-currency exchange so you can trade with the entire world in your local currency. Now isn’t that something worth talking about?
Oh, Goody! A digital corpse!

Not only did these “secure and reliable” saviors of Mankind’s money go belly up, but even better happened. According to Reuters, the President of the Japan-located Mt. Gox exchange, a man with the remarkably un-Japanese name Mark Karpeles, when asked whether Mt. Gox was dead, offered an e-mail reply that is a masterpiece of Zen, uh …no, not transparency. Impenetrability and vague incoherence is more like it.

It is so poetic in its mysteriously uninformative way (no doubt raising the anxiety among coiners who thought they had hefty digital sums safely stashed in the gorge of Gox) that it deserves to be typeset as a free verse poem. And so I will set it that way:

"We should have an official
announcement ready

“We are currently at a
turning point for
the business.

“I can’t tell much much
more for now
as this also involves
other parties."

No kidding, dude. I’ll bet some of those “other parties” have smoke coming out of their ears and murder in their eyes.

So let me add a four-line coda:

That rubbing you hear
Comes from Luddites like me
And what we are rubbing
Is our hands with glee.


Cirze said...

A voice of reason.

Clap clap clap clap clap clap clap!

Patricia said...

I have the same phone plan, no tweets either or apps. No Bitcoins, just real coins. I guess, I am getting old. All I see are more ways to exploit people who are already stretched to their limit. Where did all the money go?