Two days after I returned from Jamaica, my husband surprised me by throwing a dinner party for his business associates and their wives, most of whom I had not met. Knowing that my first few days back at work would be hectic, he decided that he would not burden me with the planning and execution of this party, so he asked everyone to bring a dish. After I got over my incredulity and had a glass of wine– “WHAT??? You invited 10 people I’ve never met for dinner and you made it a POTLUCK???”–it turned out to be a pretty good party. At one point, one of the guests, a visionary in his own company, stood in our family room perusing the shelving holding my prized DVD collection, hundreds amassed over the last fifteen years and neatly alphabetized, and said, “Oh, DVD’s! How very twentieth century!”
For the last eight months, I have had an ATM machine in my garage. Not just any ATM machine—this one was purchased by my youngest son, the twenty two year old entrepreneur. Having soured a bit on gold and silver investing as the stock market surged and gold prices fell, he decided it was time to research a new form of paperless currency called bitcoin. As always, he did his homework and began to “mine” bitcoins via his home computer and then bought some more when he realized that the computing power to mine the bitcoin would cost an arm and a leg in electric bills. He thought that perhaps the next big thing would be to have ATM machines where one could exchange dollars for bitcoin. So he bought himself an ATM machine, along with the domain name www.bitcoinatm.com and sat in the garage for weeks, programming the machine to do just that. Apparently a Canadian company called Robocoin beat him to market, doing $100,000 worth of business in just eight days (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/11/06/people-have-bought-or-sold-100000-in-bitcoins-from-a-vancouver-atm-firm-says/). My son is now shopping his creation and the domain name to the Winklevoss twins formerly of Facebook fame, collectively known as the Winklevii and currently the largest American stakeholders in bitcoin (http://money.cnn.com/2013/09/17/investing/bitcoin-winklevoss-twins/). On September 17, bitcoins were trading at $140. Today they are worth over $300. If the Winklevii aren’t interested, there are always the Chinese.
What does this all mean for medicine? Tonight my son had dinner at the house and we were talking about the upsurge in interest in bitcoin. I joked, “Pretty soon they’ll be paying for doctors’ visits in bitcoin.” He said, “Mom, it’s already happening!” and passed on two links to medical services paid for by bitcoin at a plastic surgery clinic and an in vitro fertilization clinic. You’ll find the info on reddit—try “Boobs for Bitcoin” and “Meet the World’s first Bitcoin Baby” at respectively, clinics in Miami and Los Angeles. He also pointed me in the direction of a website called www.coinmd.org where patients can ask questions and doctors can answer, and get paid in bitcoin. I don’t think I am quite ready for this brave new world. I still like the jangle of change in my pocket, and am thrilled when I can use my extra pennies to pay a bill of $20.07. Call me old fashioned.
Still, when one of the guys working hard to trim my overgrown eucalyptus trees stopped me yesterday to ask “Why do you have an ATM machine in your garage?” I replied, “It’s a bitcoin ATM. It’s the FUTURE.” For the sake of my son who will likely be supporting me in my old age, I sure hope so!