A lot of the news around Bitcoin has to do with its value rising and falling. Many have decided to invest with hopes its value goes up. While the total number of those with Bitcoin is just a fraction of the world’s population, some of them happen to live in Fresno. FM89’s Laura Tsutsui reports that some of these users aren’t necessarily hoping to strike it rich, but instead are trying to understand how cryptocurrency could be a part of our lives in years to come.
Anthony Yang is a researcher and content developer in Downtown Fresno.
He’s the kind of person who listens to YouTube videos at the twice the normal speed so he can learn a lot in a short amount of time. Something he’s decided to start learning about in the last year is Bitcoin.
“I probably will check it maybe once or twice a week,” says Yang. “If I do check, it's to check where Bitcoin is at, and then once in a while I’ll Google and see if there are any updates or huge changes in the cryptocurrency news.”
Yang isn’t into Bitcoin to get rich. He’s exploring it because he wants to understand how this might affect his life in the coming years.
He’s not the only one trying to figure it out.
Once a month in the basement of the Bitwise South Stadium, a group of Bitcoin enthusiasts meet to talk about the latest cryptocurrency news. It’s hard to know how many Bitcoin users actually live in Fresno, but the group boasts 300 members, and about 15 showed up. Kurt Arisohn started the group over a year ago.
“It’s so much going on. You can spend a day, and you can spend the next year researching this stuff and still be lost in it all,” says Arisohn. “Every single day there’s new updates, there’s new things happening. And you think ‘Oh, I’ve figured this all out,’ and you wake up one day and you think, I don’t understand any of this, and you start from scratch.”
Arisohn says that the conversations end up getting philosophical very fast.
“You really start to question, what is value, and what is my bank providing for me?”
He says that Bitcoin users challenge traditional financial institutions because Bitcoin isn’t owned or managed by any one person or government.
Cryptocurrencies are decentralized money, tracked on a meticulously kept ledger. So, someone could exchange their dollars for bitcoin, watch the price fluctuate, and if the price is up, maybe end up with more dollars than they started with. And since it’s decentralized, someone can transfer money to someone else without the oversight of a bank or expensive wire transfer fees. Some are hoping that the ledger could be used to not only track money, but also data.
Despite the fact that Bitcoin is a currency, the group hardly discussed using it to buy anything.
Susan Athey is a professor at the Stanford Business School.
“I've done some research about how people were using these cryptocurrencies,” says Athey. “Early on mostly it's to store value or investment, so people are buying them, holding them and selling them. That's by far the biggest thing people do.”
She expects even more uses for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies will develop over the years, but not as a substitute for the dollars used everyday.
“So the cryptocurrency is really a technology or a pipe or way to transfer value,” says Athey. “It's also a way to keep track of things, keep track of information, so it’s not really a direct consumer product.”
While Athey sees a lot of potential, she warns against getting into cryptocurrency as a way to make money. She says that the value changes too much for people to make decisions that aren’t risky, and there are no guarantees the market will move in your favor.
Justin Hicks is an economics professor at UC Merced. He says it’s possible that cryptocurrencies will be used as everyday money, once the fluctuation in value slows down.
“We've been moving away from physical currency for a long time. It’s the next evolution in how we define and what we as a society trust as money,” says Hicks. “How that evolves, 10 years, 15 years, how will it be regulated, that’s a very difficult question to answer, but I do absolutely believe that we will be in a fully digital economy.”
Like Athey, Hicks says that kind of use isn’t likely to happen in the anytime soon.
“At this point the demand is based on an expectation of what the demand might become,” says Hicks. “That is why it is so volatile.”
For someone who doesn’t understand programming or economics, figuring out Bitcoin can be intimidating.
A company called CoinMe just installed it’s second Bitcoin ATM in Fresno, with the intention of making the process of getting bitcoin much simpler. Dom Garrett is with the company. He says having a physical ATM and customer service support will hopefully ease people who are on the fence about it to try it out.
“There's a lot of people that want to figure out how to get into it, but you know, there's lack of information or misinformation,” says Garrett. “People don't know how to do it, or people are scared to throw their bank information on a website and not get anything tangible, just have internet money that’s out there.
Garrett says he thinks that Bitcoin will end up being as revolutionary as the internet, and Anthony Yang agrees.
“I think for me what kept me into it was the idea that, hey this is a technology that can empower people,” says Yang. “That’s why I believe in it.”
For the time being, Bitcoin is still a very speculative technology, but Yang doesn’t mind waiting to see what happens. He’s invested for the long haul.