Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey, both journalists for the Wall Street Journal, have co-authored a book that delves deep into the phenomenon of digital money. The Age of Cryptocurrency traces the history of computer technology-based currencies, how they work and what role they’ll be playing in our society. They look beyond the Western world to demonstrate how digital cash could be instrumental in countries where people don’t currently have access to banks and also consider different possible future scenarios. Reading their book, it’s clear that the global economy is on the brink of a new era.
The Age of Cryptocurrency begins with a chapter on Afghanistan – a country where girls were barred from surfing the web until one Afghan businesswoman joins Film Annex, a US-based creative platform that pays more than 300,000 bloggers and filmmakers for their contributions to its social media channels and website.
Knowing that Afghan women have no access to their own bank accounts, and also frustrated by the high transaction costs he has to pay for even relatively small international transfers, Film Annex founder Francesco Rulli decides to completely overhaul the payment system in 2013 by paying his bloggers in Bitcoins. From this first chapter, the book had me hooked.
There had already been myriad attempts to introduce digital currencies, but invariably they were stymied by technical limitations and a lack of trust. This is, until Satoshi Nakamoto came up with a digital value repository and digital payment system in 2008, which he introduced as open-source software in 2009.
This was the birth of the famous digital Bitcoin. Its real breakthrough didn’t come until 2013, though, when the virtual currency began turning up all over the place. Even so, its future is still by no means guaranteed.
Readers of the book get explanations and insights about:
- how the Bitcoin works and the associated threats, technical and otherwise;
- the history of Bitcoin protagonists such as Mt. Gox;
- the arguments for why the founders of some twenty startups around the world choose to carry out their work guided by the Bitcoin principles;
- the old economy, which will be on its last legs after the worldwide transfer to cryptocurrencies;
- the sheer number of organisations involved in completing a single credit card money transfer, from the buyer to the seller; and
- the huge opportunity that cryptocurrencies can offer the billions of people who do not yet have access to banks.
Before reading this book, I assumed – as many people probably do – that Bitcoin was just a technical buzzword that would eventually go the way of all trends. But now it’s much clearer to me what its creator and supporters hope to achieve and how it could well claim a place within the established order of world currencies.
At times the book goes into a bit too much detail, and some readers may opt to scan over those sections. However, the book is very worthwhile for anyone interested in learning about how cryptocurrencies work, the role they could play in our future and whether it makes sense to step into the world of digital money yourself.
Mireille Schrijnemaekers is a marketing consultant and interim manager at Zelino BV, and has 20 years’ working experience at large and international organisations including Vodafone, Ernst & Young, KPN, Pon and SNS Bank.