CNBC Explores Bitcoin
CNBC.com has released their digital documentary “The Bitcoin Uprising” this morning. The documentary follows cnbc.com reporter Mary Thompson into the world of bitcoin, from home-based mining operations to the deep web. Thompson and one of her producers, Karina Frayter, decided to create this piece after realizing that a 1-minute ‘hit’ (or story) on the currency was too difficult to do. The documentary will only be available online, as that is the “most appropriate place for it, considering the bitcoin community is completely immersed in the digital world,” Thompson explains.
Thompson’s journey through the bitcoin sphere started from a place of “pure curiosity.” However, she quickly recognized that this new technology had many “strong voices backing it, and strong voices criticizing it.” Bitcoin Uprising presents a well-balanced view, as compared to many other one-sided pro or anti-bitcoin pieces, by considering both the potential for – and the problems with – the technology. “We wanted to see what was behind both sides of this,” Mary explains, “and try to get a clearer way of seeing if there was a future for the digital currency.” Kudos to Thompson and her team for presenting both sides of the (bit)coin.
The process itself to produce the show was “exhausting” compared to Thompson’s usual 1-minute long pieces. However, Thompson found solace in the bitcoin community, who she describes as “passionate about what they are doing, very, very straightforward, and willing to help [her] understand a very complicated topic.”
The documentary itself starts by showing the sheer excitement amongst bitcoin enthusiasts. It moves through the lifestyle of a hard-core bitcoin early adopter and advocate – a computer whiz kid – and shows how he lives his life using bitcoin. It then explores home-based mining; the debate between old-school investors like Warren Buffet vs. new tech investors like Marc Andreessen (who is shown saying “the historical track record of old white men, who don’t understand technology, crapping on new technology is, I think, 100%”); the dark side of bitcoin through drug and hitman-services on the deep web, where most merchants “prefer bitcoin”; and more. It also highlights the incredible rise of the currency, from a growth perspective, comparing bitcoin to Facebook stock.
Thompson worked with her producer to choose who she would be interviewing and highlighting through the documentary, noting that her producer “had done a couple of stories that involved the hacking community, so she was able to connect [Thompson] with bitcoin users who were able to talk about what they were doing.”
The Bitcoin community knows very well that the key issue to adoption is the currency’s ease of use. Currently, the largest challenges prohibiting immediate mass adoption of Bitcoin are understanding the currency and its protocol, and then easily using it in day-to-day life. It’s ironic that most people have no idea how their fiat currency operates, but continue to use it everyday. However, discussing Bitcoin brings these questions about money to the forefront. Thompson also explains that many people don’t understand why bitcoin would be used over something like the U.S. dollar.
Behind the ease of use of regular credit and debit cards lies a massively complex system of regulation, fees, and intermediaries that add significant hidden costs to the overall transactions in our banked society. Compliance costs, credit card fees, interest, merchant fees, account fees, exchange fees, and government levies/taxes are only some examples. On one hand, Bitcoin can avoid nearly all those fees; on the other hand, it lacks the sheer manpower and infrastructure that makes our modern financial system tick.
Thompson sees this lack of infrastructure as Bitcoin’s greatest barrier to massive adoption. “Storing bitcoin is already problematic for those of us who are banked,” Thompson explains. “Consider the world’s underbanked, who don’t get to put their paper wallet in a safety deposit box.”
Andreas Antonopoulos, the biggest supporter of bitcoin’s power to transform the underdeveloped world, agrees with Thompson on this. Somewhere in the not-so-distant future, Antonopoulos speculates that someone will crack the code and prime Bitcoin for mass adoption, making bitcoin easier for everyone to use (and that individual or company quite wealthy): “every entrepreneur in this space should look carefully at user interface and user security and figure out where they can carve out the next open-source solution to [these problems].”
Despite the difficulties Thompson sees in acquiring and storing the currency, she holds $10 USD worth, but only to go through the process of understanding how it is acquired. In the name of journalistic integrity, she is staying as neutral as possible. At the current time, CNBC does not have any plans to create any more Bitcoin documentaries, but Thompson sees this as a “rapidly developing story,” and notes that there were incredible changes to the technology even while she was filming, including the IRS’ decision to tax the currency like property.
Overall, “The Bitcoin Uprising” is enjoyable to watch and is accessible enough for public consumption and sharing. Mary Thompson did an excellent job of staying objective in her journalistic pursuits, noting that, whether she loves the digital currency or not, she must remain neutral if she will continue to report on it – quite refreshing from polarized views that suggest Bitcoin is either the answer to, or cause of, an impending financial apocalypse.
Catch “Bitcoin Uprising”and be sure to share your thoughts by commenting below or tweeting to us @BitcoinMagazine.