Bitcoin May Be the Global Economy’s Last Safe Haven

The Internet is a big fan of the worst-possible-thing. Many people thought Twitter was the worst possible way for people to communicate, little more than discourse abbreviated into tiny little chunks; Facebook was a horrible way to experience human relationships, commodifying them into a list of friends whom one pokes. The Arab Spring changed the story somewhat. (BuzzFeed is another example—let them eat cat pictures.) One recipe for Internet success seems to be this: Start at the bottom, at the most awful, ridiculous, essential idea, and own it. Promote it breathlessly, until you’re acquired or you take over the world. Bitcoin is playing out in a similar way. It asks its users to forget about central banking in the same way Steve Jobs asked iPhone (AAPL) users to forget about the mouse.

I have an intense memory from the early 1990s, when I was just out of college. I was seated alone in a diner. Suddenly a loud man behind me pronounced, “Internet time is like regular time but seven times faster.” I turned around to see a well-dressed adult, a serious person. I was mystified. How could he believe something so facile and arbitrary? On and on he went, expounding on the magical number seven.

Having been through one or two bubbles, I’ve learned that people can believe exactly what they want to believe. That’s one of the privileges of being a human with money to spend. When you compound utopian wishfulness with the anxiety of being left behind, you’ll have a bubble. Then again, we may be at the forefront of the coming Bitcoin revolution. There’s no way to be sure. I’ll admit to having run the Bitcoin mining software a few years ago for a week until I became convinced it was a poor use of limited computer resources. I had work to do. I expected Bitcoins to remain in the background with all of the other anarchist crypto-chatter that makes up an essential substratum of modern network thinking.

But Bitcoins didn’t go away.