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The Column: Bitcoins may be the future, but not yet for me


For those still wary of feeding a perfectly good paycheck into an ATM or stymied at the cash register when a clerk scolds “chip,” not “swipe,” the prospect of an entirely new currency may suggest it is time, at last, for one of those “mind-enhancing” supplements advertised on the internet.

The old-fashioned idea of money — reach into wallet or purse, pull out dollar bill, buy pack of Juicy Fruit gum, collect change, bid storekeeper “good day” — may be just another doomed notion sacrificed to evolutionary progress.

Hark, what new day awaits?

Recently, I heard a public radio discussion of Bitcoins and the broader world of “cryptocurrencies” — there are several — and thought to myself, “This is why they invented sports talk.”

Rather than ponder the mysteries of block chains, nodes, hashrates, multisigs and other daunting cryptocurrency principles, wouldn’t it be better just to consider the happy news of slugger Jay Bruce returning to the Mets for a reported $39 million over three years — not paid, I bet, in “altcoins” — and the prospects of a playoff berth come October?

But there I go — scurrying for the 20th century. Just when I have adjusted to Band-Aids in cardboard boxes — were metal containers and hinged tops really so long ago? — and sneakers with light-up LED soles, it appears more is being demanded.

There will be no attempt here to further explain the Bitcoin system except to say it pertains to a digital means of exchange that operates without a central bank and has value that can fluctuate, as a big sell-off recently demonstrated.

Offering even another word on the subject asks for trouble. I’m out.

Worth noting, however, is that some people who appear to understand cryptocurrency are wary — South Korea evidently is considering a ban — and others convinced that the future of money (and maybe everything else) is about to be revolutionized.

“ . . . Bitcoin has cyberpunk sex appeal,” wrote William J. Luther, a Kenyon College assistant economics professor, on the Learn Liberty website. “It foreshadows a radical change in the social and economic order and is shrouded with a mystique and aura that can be difficult to penetrate.”

Impenetrable, radical, mystique-shrouded, cyberpunk-sexy changes in the social order?

Oh, my, as Mom said years ago when we sat her in front of the TV and showed my father’s old family movies transferred from 16 mm film to videotape. Mom thought we had become stars in our own show — the new “Leave It to Beaver”!

“Look, there’s you in a bathing suit,” Mom said. “And, uh-oh, me, too.”

We explained how the miracle was wrought — technology can do incredible things, we said — and Mom smiled and nodded, happy to be around at a time when you could watch black-and-white scenes from a long-ago Poconos vacation on a television set in the basement.

That was circa 1985.

Born a few years before Henry Ford mass-produced the Model T, Mom lived long enough to fly on jetliners. She had a wireless landline phone — “look, no cord!” she marveled, walking around her little apartment — and watched U.S. astronauts step onto the moon.

All of it, she welcomed. Oh, my.

Now I’m closing in on Mom’s age “demographic” — amazing, or not.

The Bitcoin phenomenon — to the extent I understand it — is just another reminder of changes that could never have been anticipated and the daily drama of being alive.

Accordingly, it makes sense to review the irresistible force paradox — you know, unstoppable force meets immovable object?

You don’t want to be the one sitting on the tracks when the train comes rumbling through, I get it. The future is arriving, full speed. It’s not so much that you have to step aside, as get aboard, right? Artificial intelligence, driverless cars, quantum computing. Wow.

Cryptocurrency? Who knows whether it’s here to stay?

For now, I’m sticking with the standard dough-re-mi.

My attachment goes all the way back to my first job at Mr. Kolk’s pharmacy in Brooklyn.

Saturday nights, I delivered prescriptions, dusted the shelves and, if Mr. Kolk got hungry, hustled out to get him a sandwich.

Pay was $1 an hour, the going rate, and hot stuff for a 15-year-old.

At the end of the evening, Mr. Kolk would say, “OK, we’re done,” and go to his upright cash register. A bell went “ba-ding,” the drawer flew open and he handed me three bucks for three hours’ work. I can see the money in my hand, still, and feel it, folded, in my pocket.

Progress is great, sure. So are dollar bills.

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