Dave Birch, the director of Consult Hyperion in Surrey, England, says Bitcoin "is really interesting because it informs other debates, not necessarily because of what it is itself." It's likely that Bitcoin's "technology and techniques will be part of some future means of exchange," particularly the use of cryptography to protect user privacy, Birch says.
Part of? Bitcoin's most rabid fans would beg to differ. "Bitcoin is the virtual currency of the future and will take over," one enthusiast tweeted to me this week.
It's a tantalizing thought. But I think Bitcoin can coexist with the established forms of money and payment. Competition doesn't have to mean winner-take-all.
I can envision a future where people will sometimes charge purchases to Visa to rack up rewards points and earn special offers tailored to their spending history, enjoying the fraud protection of chargebacks, and sometimes use Bitcoin (or something like it or something that evolves from it) for transactions they don't want tracked, incurring the same risks as they do with physical cash today.
Transacting off the grid should remain an option even after we phase out paper bills and metal coins. Just because the world's going digital doesn't mean we have to fulfill Orwell's prophecy of the telescreen.
The problem with Bitcoin right now is that if it were a car, it would come only in stick shift. When the automatic version arrives, though, watch out.
Marc Hochstein is the executive editor of American Banker. The views expressed are his own.