Bitcoin tends to bring out a sense of blind optimism in true believers. But of all the delirious visions about the "monetary miracles" that Bitcoin can bring to our wretched, fiat currency-based world, Wired calling "Bitcoin: The Great Equalizer" for the homeless has to be the most delusional.
As an example of this equalizing force, Wired talked to a group of homeless men living in Pensacola, Florida that have managed to feed themselves by doing mindless online tasks in exchange for Bitcoin, rather than the degrading experience of having to panhandle for money.
For every video he watches, [Jesse] Angle gets 0.0004 bitcoins, or about 5 cents, thanks to a service, called BitcoinGet, that shamelessly drives artificial traffic to certain online clips. He can watch up to 12 videos a day, which gets him to about 60 cents. And he can beef up this daily take with Bitcoin Tapper, a mobile app that doles out about 0.000133 bitcoins a day — a couple of pennies — if he just taps on a digital icon over and over again. Like the YouTube service, this app isn’t exactly the height of internet sophistication — it seeks to capture your attention so it can show you ads — but for Angle, it’s a good way to keep himself fed.
Naturally, the argument that technology can "solve" deep-rooted socio-economic issues shot to the top of Hacker News. It's just another example of technologists' newfound fascination with the homeless—perhaps a byproduct of the fact that Silicon Valley's homeless population has grown by 8 percent over two years. After all, this was the scene in Twitter's neighborhood the day the $8 billion company announced it's secret IPO. Entrepreneurial types certainly didn't hesitate to exploit the homeless as placeholders in today's iPhone 5S lines.
According to Wired, Angle, who also relies on the occasional donation to get by, asks to be paid in Bitcoin when he does odd jobs around Pensacola "because it’s easier and safer. He doesn’t have to worry as much about getting robbed." Angle then uses Gyft, an Android app that transfers Bitcoins into gift cards at places like Papa John.
The group of friends relies on free Wifi at a local park and outdoor outlets at the local library for power. Wired says it's not that unusual for homeless people to have access to a mobile device.
Yes, you need a smartphone to earn bitcoins — or some other device that gets you onto the internet. But the homeless carry mobile devices more often than you might expect. Angle’s homeless friends Chris Kantola and Paul Harrison also have phones, and they aren’t unlike people living on the streets in other parts of the country. At San Francisco’s Tenderloin Technology Lab — a nonprofit that provides the city’s poor and homeless access to computers — organizers say that many of its clients use personal phones to connect to the net. Android is the mobile platform of choice.
It's wonderful that Angle and his friends have found a safe and legal way to feed themselves and that more attention is paid to the folks that fall through our ever-widening income gap. (The article also goes into depth about the willingness of "the digital nouveau riche" to donate Bitcoin to homeless causes where they might otherwise have been less charitable—and the efficiency with which those donations can be put to use.)
But there are a lot of variables involved in this "great" leveling of the playing field. In addition to the access to a mobile device, power, and an internet connection, there's the difficulty of explaining these Bitcoin tasks. Angle, the article notes, previously worked as a network engineer and computer repair technician. Then there's the instability of Bitcoin. Earlier this week, another Wired article reported that Mt. Gox, the world's largest Bitcoin exchange, was out $10 million—half of that seized by the feds and half from a legal dispute with a former partner. It's hard to predict if these Bitcoin side hustles will be around next year or even next month.
And yet, Wired reaches the following conclusion:
"The bitcoin system could become an equalizer for the country’s homeless, a place where the stigma of living on the streets isn’t as pronounced."
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[Image via Getty]