When the artist Bansky caused his painting “Girl with Balloon” to shred itself during an auction recently, much digital ink was spent debating if the art work was worth more after the unexpected shredding compared to before, when it had sold for around a million pounds.
The exercise achieved many goals of the creator, quoting Picasso to note that "the urge to destroy is also a creative urge".
The first recorded reference to “Bitcoin” came a decade ago, 31 October 2008. A research paper describing a methodology and proposal for a new "electronic cash system" was authored and disseminated around a variety of obscure mailing lists. The goal of disintermediation, tearing down historical reliance on a central bank, landed with little fanfare.
Ten years on, the number of new crypto-currencies has grown at a rampant pace, almost matching the volatility seen in the valuation, boom and bust, of many of the currencies themselves. Yet despite being heralded as the new “gold”, for many, cryptocurrencies still appear to be a solution looking for a problem.
The underlying mechanisms and spin-offs such as Distributed Ledger Technologies and Smart Contracts have found many innovative and elegant use cases. Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are subjected to constant Improvement Proposals, and billions are being earned as businesses evolve to implement the robust, secure and creative solutions. However, at the end of the day, few of us are using crypto currencies to make or receive payments.
The goal of tearing down the old-guard financial infrastructure was perhaps too much too soon. Will regulation of the currency that wanted to be unregulated finally help it find common acceptance and realise its true worth?
Image - Thomas Crown Art
But something can't be the future indefinitely. At some point, a technology has to start being used. Otherwise, it is simply a failed promise. And Bitcoin is starting to look like just that. A decade after it was invented, it has gained no traction as a form of payment. Nor have the thousands of other cryptocurrencies that have taken its place. Instead, it has served as a wild form of gambling. As for the blockchain, nobody seems to be using it for anything other than experiments and publicity stunts.