Is the rise of Bitcoin more like the Segway or the PC?

Published: Sunday, Nov. 24 2013 1:40 p.m. MST

Bitcoin is, in short, the digital currency and platform that may or may not be taking the world by storm.

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Every now and again, a topic pops up that causes the Internet to boil. Journalists and analysts often swap tweets and articles, debating everything from the significance of Jennifer Lawrence’s film career to the political ramifications of the glitch-filled Healthcare.gov rollout.

But nothing interests those on the Internet more than, well, the Internet. Case in point: Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is, in short, the digital currency and platform that may or may not be taking the world by storm. It has been the subject of online public debate since it was first released in 2009. But this week, The Atlantic’s Matthew O’Brien entered the conversation, thumbing his nose at what he sees as an overconfidence in Bitcoin’s potential.

Comparing the rising digital currency to other tech-bubble disasters, like the Segway and dotcom stock “circa 1999,” O'Brien concludes that ultimately Bitcoin is a “Ponzi scheme libertarians use to make money off each other — because gold wasn't enough of one for them.”

For many tech enthusiasts, those are fighting words.

The Washington Post’s Timothy B. Lee, for example, thinks that O’Brien may be right about certain aspects of the dangers of Bitcoin, but his conclusion is shortsighted.

“The big difference between Bitcoin and a Segway is that Segway is a finished consumer product, while Bitcoin is a technology platform,” Lee writes, adding that because of this, Bitcoin should be compared more to the primitive incarnations of the PC or Internet than to shoppling mall cops' transportation of choice.

“Bitcoin has the potential to become steadily better over time,” Lee concludes.

In what could also be seen as a possible response to O’Brien’s article, a number of news outlets reported various products this week that are now available to buy using Bitcoins.

Forbes, for example, reported on Nov. 22 that Virgin Galactic — Richard Branson’s company for civilian space tourism — will accept Bitcoins for payment. Business Insider reported the day before (which was the same day The Atlantic published O’Brien’s piece online) that a university in Cyprus has officially become the first to accept Bitcoins as payment for full-tuition costs.

To top it all off, ABC News published a piece on its website reporting that if you live in Florida, you can now pay for plastic surgery using the would-be currency of the future.

Arguing the stability of Bitcoin is a tale as old as time (or at least the last three years), but whether or not the currency experiment has real lasting power will depend on its ability to convince the public that it's the real deal. Either way, as Marketwatch’s Saumya Vaishampayan puts it, “The Internet just can’t get enough of Bitcoin.”

JJ Feinauer is a graduate of Southern Virginia University and a content writer for the Moneywise page on DeseretNews.com. Email: jfeinauer@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: @jjfeinauer.

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