Now I Get It: Bitcoin

Now I Get It: Bitcoin

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Now I Get It: Bitcoin

Now I Get It: Bitcoin

Yahoo’s David Pogue gives Bitcoin the Now I Get It treatment.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Man, if anything needs the “now I get it” treatment, it’s Bitcoin. You hear about it all the time in financial and technical circles—but most people really don’t grasp&nbsp;it.” data-reactid=”9″>Man, if anything needs the “now I get it” treatment, it’s Bitcoin. You hear about it all the time in financial and technical circles—but most people really don’t grasp it.

Bitcoin is an alternative kind of currency. It’s entirely digital—there’s no paper money, there’s no coins, nothing physical, not even a plastic card for your wallet. Your bitcoins are stored on your computer or your phone. If your hard drive crashes without a backup, you lose your bitcoins.

This arrangement has some stunning advantages over traditional currency or credit cards:

  • Between buyer and seller, there’s no bank or credit-card company involved, no middleman who can charge fees. The entire Bitcoin banking system is a global peer-to-peer network, running Bitcoin software.
  • When you buy something from someone in another country, there’s no waiting to convert currencies—and again, no fees.
  • All transactions are essentially anonymous, which is super convenient if you’re a drug dealer or arms dealer.

There’s a whole lot of really cool, really complicated math involved in Bitcoin, designed to keep it secure and to prevent Bitcoin inflation.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="For example: the complete record of all Bitcoin transactions—a massive digital ledger called the blockchain—is stored on all Bitcoin users’ computers, rather than being held by a central authority.” data-reactid=”17″>For example: the complete record of all Bitcoin transactions—a massive digital ledger called the blockchain—is stored on all Bitcoin users’ computers, rather than being held by a central authority.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Bitcoin was born in 2009, the proposal of an anonymously written white paper. There’s no government to decide when to print new money in this case, so new bitcoins are “mined”—created—through a complex scheme you can read about here. In essence, anyone can create new bitcoins, but don’t think you’ll get rich that way. The job requires massive, expensive, high-horsepower computers that must slog through gigantic calculations to “mine” new money. The complexity of the math involved is adjusted so that it’s just barely profitable to mine bitcoins, and so that only a few bitcoins come into existence every 10 minutes.” data-reactid=”18″>Bitcoin was born in 2009, the proposal of an anonymously written white paper. There’s no government to decide when to print new money in this case, so new bitcoins are “mined”—created—through a complex scheme you can read about here. In essence, anyone can create new bitcoins, but don’t think you’ll get rich that way. The job requires massive, expensive, high-horsepower computers that must slog through gigantic calculations to “mine” new money. The complexity of the math involved is adjusted so that it’s just barely profitable to mine bitcoins, and so that only a few bitcoins come into existence every 10 minutes.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="This production will stop when there are 21 million bitcoins on earth, which is supposed to happen around 2040. After that—that’s all the bitcoins there’ll ever be.” data-reactid=”19″>This production will stop when there are 21 million bitcoins on earth, which is supposed to happen around 2040. After that—that’s all the bitcoins there’ll ever be.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="So how do you get bitcoins? Same way you get euros or yen or pesos: You buy it with traditional currency like dollars. You can use online exchanges like Bitstamp and Coinbase. At this writing, one bitcoin costs about $1,078.” data-reactid=”20″>So how do you get bitcoins? Same way you get euros or yen or pesos: You buy it with traditional currency like dollars. You can use online exchanges like Bitstamp and Coinbase. At this writing, one bitcoin costs about $1,078.

What to do with bitcoins

When you get a Bitcoin address—something like an email address—you also get a complex password known as a private key, which you need to access your stash.

At that point, you can transfer money to other people by sending it to their Bitcoin addresses.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="You can also pay for goods and services at some merchants, like Subway and Xbox; they’re delighted when that happens, because they don’t lose 3% of the transaction in credit-card fees. But in the big picture, the list of places that accept Bitcoin is fairly small. And you don’t get any particular benefit by paying for something this way.” data-reactid=”24″>You can also pay for goods and services at some merchants, like Subway and Xbox; they’re delighted when that happens, because they don’t lose 3% of the transaction in credit-card fees. But in the big picture, the list of places that accept Bitcoin is fairly small. And you don’t get any particular benefit by paying for something this way.

Bitcoin as an investment

The good news is that Bitcoin’s value has only gone up, in the eight years of its existence, about 1,000%.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The bad news is that its value is incredibly volatile. Remember this past January, when it dropped by a fifth in a day? Good times.” data-reactid=”27″>The bad news is that its value is incredibly volatile. Remember this past January, when it dropped by a fifth in a day? Good times.

Should you dive in?

So: Bitcoin is fascinating, but it’s not very useful, at least not to most people. Some people love it, for sure, like investors with a taste for risk, tech-savvy early adopters, technically-minded libertarians, and criminals.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="But keep in mind that there are lots of exciting ways to lose all your bitcoins. Like if your hard drive crashes without a backup, and you lose your private key. Or if you get a Bitcoin virus, of which there are now many. Or if your Bitcoin exchange goes out of business, which has happened plenty; in fact, 18 of the first 40 exchanges had gone under&nbsp;as of 2013, taking all their clients’&nbsp;money with them.” data-reactid=”35″>But keep in mind that there are lots of exciting ways to lose all your bitcoins. Like if your hard drive crashes without a backup, and you lose your private key. Or if you get a Bitcoin virus, of which there are now many. Or if your Bitcoin exchange goes out of business, which has happened plenty; in fact, 18 of the first 40 exchanges had gone under as of 2013, taking all their clients’ money with them.

Remember, this whole thing is largely unregulated. If you buy something with a credit card and you get ripped off, you can call an 800 number and the credit-card company will get your money back. But if you get ripped off with a Bitcoin transaction … sorry! You voted for no middleman, remember?

In the meantime, for most people, Bitcoin is a fascinating development that’s a worthy topic of study—just not for ownership.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="More from David Pogue:” data-reactid=”38″>More from David Pogue:

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The Fitbit Alta HR band is the least dorky fitness band you can buy” data-reactid=”39″>The Fitbit Alta HR band is the least dorky fitness band you can buy

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="David Pogue’s search for the world’s best air-travel app” data-reactid=”44″>David Pogue’s search for the world’s best air-travel app

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="David Pogue tested 47 pill-reminder apps to find the best one” data-reactid=”45″>David Pogue tested 47 pill-reminder apps to find the best one

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The little-known iPhone feature that lets blind people see with their fingers” data-reactid=”46″>The little-known iPhone feature that lets blind people see with their fingers

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="I paid $3,000 for my MacBook Pro and got emotional whiplash” data-reactid=”47″>I paid $3,000 for my MacBook Pro and got emotional whiplash

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Here’s the real money-maker for the Internet of Things” data-reactid=”48″>Here’s the real money-maker for the Internet of Things

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below. On the web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s poguester@yahoo.com. You can read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email.&nbsp;” data-reactid=”49″>David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below. On the web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s poguester@yahoo.com. You can read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email

 

Source: www.yahoo.com

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