Back in the early 1990’s technologists and early adopters were excited about the potential of the Internet: it could disrupt many existing industries – communications, publishing, news, even politics. Those with foresight could see a day when people would receive information in a far more efficient, decentralized, and democratic fashion. But the average person was still skeptical – what can it do for me? Then America Online created its own online world and marketed it relentlessly to the average consumer (anyone still have an AOL CD lying around?).
To Internet purists, America Online was an abomination; it was a closed system that controlled the entire experience and didn’t take full advantage of the power of the Internet. However, no one can argue with America Online’s success at giving average people their first taste of the Internet. And, once they got that taste, they were hooked. Eventually America Online’s popularity declined dramatically, and now everyone uses the Internet in a much more decentralized, open fashion. But we can thank AOL for getting millions of people first interested and showing them how the Internet could make life better.
How Will Bitcoin Make My Life Better?
Some have seen Bitcoin, like the Internet, as a technology that will topple many existing structures, not least of which is our inefficient and centrally-controlled financial payment system. Those who see the full potential of Bitcoin understand that it can remake the world of finance and money. Again, however, to the average person, the question for any technology is not, “Will it remake the world?” but always, “How will it make my own life better?”
If we are honest, we will admit that Bitcoin hasn’t yet adequately answered that question. Yes, those who support Bitcoin know that a financial system built upon it will be far superior to the traditional system and will offer many practical benefits. It will, for one thing, reach people who today are ignored by the financial titans. But right now those benefits are not clear to most people, as using a credit card from their local bank is perfectly easy and convenient for them.
The new Shift Visa Debit Card, which can be loaded with Bitcoin (using Coinbase) is one attempt to make Bitcoin more easy and convenient for the masses. However, some Bitcoin advocates have criticized this card because it does not fully leverage the advantages of Bitcoin – it is not decentralized, it has the inherent weaknesses of the credit card system, and it is tied to one service (Coinbase). But I think this misses the point. The Shift Card builds another on-ramp for more widespread Bitcoin adoption, just as America Online was, in spite of its drawbacks, an accessible on-ramp to the wider Internet in the 1990’s.
Currently, there are few merchants who take Bitcoin directly. Giving people a way to spend Bitcoin easily just about anywhere – even if the method is less-than-ideal – can only help Bitcoin in the long run. Once more and more people begin to use and spend Bitcoin, there will be greater incentives for entrepreneurs to innovate solutions that are truly Bitcoin-centric. At that point, the Shift Card may appear as AOL does today – an antiquated half-measure. But we may owe it a debt of gratitude for bringing many more people into the Bitcoin ecosystem.
What do you think? Is the new Shift Card good or bad for Bitcoin? Let us know in the comments below!
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Pixabay, Shift Financial, Inc.