Bitcoin: Future or Fad?

First year BSc Economics student Lydia Evans provides a recap of an event organized by Birkbeck’s Economics + Finance Society, at which Financial Times journalist Isabella Kaminska discussed the future of Bitcoin.

What does Bitcoin mean to you?

To some, it epitomises the promise of the free market ­-  perhaps even, if one ‘mined’ it early enough, a path to becoming a millionaire. To others, it is reminiscent of Tulip Mania or the South Sea Bubble. The valuation graphs are eerily similar both in curve and timeline.

The Financial Times (FT) was started to help investors make informed decisions. Many were often victims of the Penny press. It was most germane to listen to what the FT’s Isabella Kaminska (FT Alphaville) thinks about the most popular cryptocurrency and its underlying technology, Blockchain.

Kaminska thinks that Bitcoin has been good for engaging previously uninterested parties in banking and finance. The evolution of its ecosystem also highlights the importance of harnessing the ever-expanding abilities of technology. This is as far as Bitcoin can be considered ‘on the money’.

She said that most of us have had a form of digital currency for ages, ever since we first signed up to a bank; the very basic concept of Bitcoin is not, therefore, a new one. However, unlike the technological advancement in traditional banks, she believes that Bitcoin might take us backwards.

We have no idea as to the actual asset structure or as to where it is being invested. But if capital has to be reinvested to create value, where is Bitcoin being invested?  Similarly, although Bitcoin appears to promise a dissolution of typical dealer/broker relationships, they are still very much in place.

Details regarding any potential intermediary from an established, regulated institution are readily available. There is rarely transparency when it comes to those associated with a Bitcoin Exchange. Kaminska’s research into the companies that sell and process Bitcoin showed that the vetting process is astoundingly lax.

Another claim is that it is free and easy. Kaminska thinks Bitcoin is still not user-friendly for the general public. The increasing costs could even lead to it becoming a luxury lifestyle product. Maybe, she jokingly suggested, one that could be featured in magazines such as ‘How to Spend It’.

Regulation will be the catalyst of all its future developments. It could even dismantle key principles of the whole project. This leads to a crucial question: Does Bitcoin serve a purpose or is it a solution looking for a purpose?

Perhaps Blockchain offers a solution. It has provided a means to mass collaboration that is hard, if not impossible, to get with traditional banks. But this depends upon who is collaborating and for what reasons. Due diligence is not an option in this very closed world – you are only as strong as the weakest member.

Kaminska opines that volatility undermines a currency’s usefulness. This can be demonstrated by examining any chart documenting the cryptocurrency’s history. She sees Bitcoin as a utopia for those disillusioned by, or unwilling to participate with, the mainstream banking system. Utopia is rarely what it seems.

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The Networked Academic: Social Media and your Research Identity

This post was contributed by Ceren Yalcin, Nelly Ali and Mayur Suresh, interns at the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research.

Twitter, Facebook, Academia.edu, Youtube, Pinterest, Delicious, Foursquare and many more…The list of available digital platforms is long, but what is the value of social media for academics?

Dr Scott Rodgers, lecturer in Media Theory at Birkbeck College, spoke yesterday about what academics can do with and in social media. He suggested that we should think of social media, a networked media, not as just as a form of ‘networking’. Rather than looking at it as an arena in which we make contacts and disseminate our work and view the work of others, he suggested we look at social media as a different sort of academic environment that develops its own intertia and channels the production of knowledge. The structural logic of social media enables different methods and forms of academic knowledge. In his talk Dr Rodgers presented a variety of popular social media platforms and discussed what sort of academic life each one of these seemed to produce.

The speaker pointed out several things that make social media different from ordinary sites of knowledge production. First that social media is persistent, in the sense that there is automatic recording of whatever you post and this stays online for a long time. Second, replicability. Meaning that once something is posted online, people can, almost instantaneously, make copies and further post it. This leads to the third characteristic: scalability. By posting and reposting by multiple users, there is the collective amplification of material that is posted online. And lastly, searchability. The fact that material that is posted online is persistent, allows for it to be searchable.

When the speaker asked the audience to comment on their own use of social media, one participant pointed out that her activities on Twitter resulted in a successful, international research co-operation. Others stated that they found Academia.edu especially useful as it allows users to share papers and to receive feedback on work in progress. However, there were also some mixed feelings towards social media amongst the participants. One participant said that tweeting during a conference might be good publicity for the event but she found that it also made her less concentrated and distracted from the actual conference talks. Another interesting account came from an academic who pointed out how ‘addictive’ social media can be and how it can prevent doing other and more important work. Further, the discussants commented on the conflicts online profiles may cause. Here, a few participants expressed concern that their work and personal personae may meet, potentially causing embarrassment (we’ve all been there!).

Dr Rodgers pointed out some of the concerns and hopes he had for a networked academia. Some of the concerns included the fragmentation of writing (how do you get a theoretical argument to fit into a tweet?), the need to get as much posted as often as possible, and the view that being logged into these new forms was just another form of academic labour – that in addition to publishing and speaking, maintaining an online persona was another things academics, particular early career researchers, needed to do to. On the plus side, he hoped that new media would engender less formalized forms of academic expression, more honest and generous academia, and a (differently) publicly engaged academia.

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