Once-dominant Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox has fallen, and in the process I lost the last .02 bitcoins I had to my name. By the time Mt. Gox disappeared from the Internet and from Twitter late Monday, bitcoin were trading for about $100 apiece, more than 75 percent lower than the price of the cryptocurrency on more stable exchanges worldwide. Since I didn't back up or keep records of my fractional amount of bitcoin anywhere else, that's roughly $2 in digital currency that's likely just vanished forever.
I shouldn't really complain. I got in on the bitcoin game relatively early and had a good run. Last summer, a while before bitcoin value hit its insane peak of more than $1,000, I bought a few hundred bucks' worth of the currency via Mt. Gox and Coinbase. I preferred the ease of trading on Gox and moved all my bitcoin over to the Japan-based exchange, which was by far the largest of the exchanges at the time.
I then started basically day trading in cryptocurrency as a means of educating myself on the topic and making a little lunch money at the same time. The currency was so volatile at the time it seemed ridiculously easy to make a profit using the old "buy low, sell high" mantra. When the price of bitcoin dropped by more than 20 percent, I'd buy. Inevitably, within a few days or even a few hours, the price would be back up again and I'd sell.
This went on for a little while until October when I tried to withdraw my funds from Mt. Gox to contribute to my household's newfund. I was told there was some sort of a delay due to problems with international transfers and banks in the United States or Europe, and that withdrawal requests were all being handled manually leading to a big backlog and would I please be patient for two weeks.
We weren't talking about a huge amount of money, so I agreed to wait. When three weeks went by I contacted the exchange again and was given the exact same line, and asked to please wait two more weeks.
Uh-oh, I thought. I've been involved in failed startups before, and this is usually what the beginning of the end looks like.
I searched online bitcoin forums and found plenty of reports of people waiting months for transactions that never posted. I immediately asked Mt. Gox to cancel my withdrawal request requiring a conversion from bitcoin to dollars, which was where the actual holdup was.
Instead I made an instant transfer of bitcoin from my Mt. Gox wallet to my bitcoin wallet on US-based Coinbase. Coinbase easily converted my bitcoin to dollars and deposited the full amount in my regular bank account.
But I left that .02 bitcoin in my Mt. Gox wallet just to keep the account open, and because I was too lazy to calculate the exact transfer fee Mt. Gox charged me, so I left behind more than enough to cover it. Yesterday that .02 bitcoin was worth $2. Today that $2 appears to be gone forever.
I could let it go. But to quote a child movie character who once famously rode a bike onto a ski slope, "TWO DOLLARS! I want my $2!"
Don't misunderstand me, though, it's not about the money. I don't need that currency back because I desperately want to try Taco Bell's new breakfast waffle taco right away. I want it back because so long as that tiny fraction of an intangible measure of currency is still recognized by servers somewhere in this wide, convoluted Web of a world we live in, it makes the dream of bitcoin stronger.
I'll skip the more detailed rant about governments, markets, and politics and just say that, given some of the revelations of the past decade about how our global economy really works, and what we've learned in the past 12 months about how certain government agencies really operate, it's good to have bitcoin out there forging another way, a sort of digital Lebowski of currency.
Whether the problem is that Mt. Gox got hacked or that the startup just couldn't hack it doesn't matter. I don't care if CEO Mark Karpelès is just trying to get down the mountain on only one ski, I want my $2! I want my $2 so that I can transfer it to Coinbase or someplace else where the dream of bitcoin still seems strong. Put another way, I could quote Fox Mulder: I want my $2, because "I want to believe."
In fact I'm still willing to put my money where my mouth is, or at least where the cryptocurrencies are. Last night, as the fate of Mt. Gox became clear, I took steps toward being able to pay for more of my existence with bitcoin. In the coming weeks, I'll be ramping this process up in preparation for an experiment I'll be writing about here on Crave. I hope to answer the question, is it possible to survive on bitcoin alone?
Stay tuned in coming weeks for the answer.