Ana Veciana-Suarez

If you don’t understand bitcoin, that’s OK

People use a Bitcoin ATM this month in Hong Kong. The public’s intense interest in all things bitcoin, and efforts by entrepreneurs to fund their businesses with digital currencies, have begun to draw attention from regulators.
People use a Bitcoin ATM this month in Hong Kong. The public’s intense interest in all things bitcoin, and efforts by entrepreneurs to fund their businesses with digital currencies, have begun to draw attention from regulators. AP

I’m all about that bitcoin … that bitcoin. I’m all about that bitcoin … that bitcoin. Yeah. Yeah.

Excuse me for using Meghan Trainor’s hit song “All About That Bass” to introduce a subject that totally confounds me. Where to begin? How to explain?

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Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. AL DIAZ Miami Herald File

If you’ve had enough brain bandwidth to look beyond the avalanche of #MeToo and Russian collusion stories, you’ve likely heard about people striking it rich trading bitcoin. In fact, that’s all I heard — between football color commentary — from my sons and brother-in-law when the family gathered for Thanksgiving.

Bitcoin? If you’re scratching your head, welcome to the club. The Club of the Clueless. The Society of the Oblivious. The Association of the Left Out.

I’ve read about bitcoin, of course. It has been in the news so frequently that practically everyone has heard about it. It even placed second in Google’s trends for global news in 2017, between Hurricane Irma and the Las Vegas shooting. (Not that this honor gives bitcoin any substance. After all, the most Googled “how” term this year was “how to make slime.”)

Bitcoin, in case you’re wondering, is a cryptocurrency, which sounds to me as much of a made-up word as bitcoin. This kind of “money” is touted as a currency outside our traditional payment system administered by a central bank or a government. It isn’t something you can hold in your hand and, if I’ve read the tea leaves correctly, it isn’t even something you can use at your neighborhood sub shop — which is why I can’t figure out what all the hoopla is about.

And there has been a crazy lot of noise around this investment. Its recent run up, from around $1,000 at the beginning of the year to well more than $17,000, has apparently made some investors wealthy. Paper billionaires, even.

I’m not one of them. Excuse me for being so plain vanilla — but please, please somebody enlighten me. What’s the purpose of a currency that can’t buy me anything nor, if saved and invested, purchase something in the future? Am I suffering from a lack of imagination?

My sons, who received a much better education than I did and are gainfully employed in the world of finance, tell me I “should look into it.” It could be, they say, the beginning of a financial revolution. And who doesn’t want to be on the ground floor of the next disruptive invention?

Frankly, however, I’m fine sitting on the sidelines. I was fine on the bleachers when my dental hygienist was flipping condos back in the real estate heyday and when tech stocks were rocketing into nosebleed territory.

And yet … yet. I’m curious. I feel like the outsider looking in through a window at a very festal party to which I was not invited. I’m the interloper, the odd one out. And it’s not a feeling I like. There’s even an acronym for that uncomfortable sensation: FOMO, fear of missing out. FOMO is as common as a winter cold in a lightning-fast society, where change comes in the blink of an eye and today’s darling will likely be irrelevant within months, if not weeks, That’s why all of us have shoulda woulda coulda anecdotes.

What’s more, things like bitcoin serve as a reminder that most of society is divided into the risk-takers and the risk-averse, and those of us who settle somewhere in the middle of that spectrum tend to feel … well, to feel boring. Out of it. Watching the excitement over bitcoin (or condo flipping or tech stock day trading) is like going through high school without belonging to the cool crowd.

But high school taught me a few things. I learned that I may be temporarily overwhelmed with envy, but in the end it’s quite alright to be dull. I’ve grown up to understand that vanilla is a flavor you can garnish however and whenever you want.

Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at avecianasuarez@gmail.com or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.

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