This week there’s a New Yorker article about BitCoin. I hadn’t heard of it until a few months ago in a separate New York mag piece, but it does make me think about where currency, or any kind of consumer exchange is headed. Are we all going to manifest destiny and become pioneers in a virtual wild West?

Even if BitCoin is a convoluted form of a Ponzi scheme, it does make an interesting use case of peer-to-peer networks, similar to file and music sharing (not easily regulated). This is how the flow of information has changed; instead of downloading (learning) info from a centralized repository (like school or a library), now anyone can exchange goods or services with anyone else online. When I was a child, if you wanted to learn about Japan or some other exotic subject, you were mostly limited to whatever books or articles were available in the library. Now, elementary school kids writing a book or travel report about Japan can actually email children in Tokyo to get a first-hand view.

This changes the user experience of any exchange. Even if the actual encryption software is safe, we are now placing trust in each other, and not a singular entity (like a federally insured bank). BitCoin exchanges money for virtual money, which can then be used for goods and services, but it’s because of growing distrust of the banking system that it’s gaining popularity. $5 debit card fees, anyone?

I just wonder, how soon before there are gun-slinging outlaws and high-noon showdowns in the virtual space? If I find a way to hold your BitCoins hostage, what rogue samurai warrior would be able to stop me?

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