At his recently opened gastro lounge in Midtown Manhattan, 23-year-old Charlie Shrem stood beside the lower-level bar as dazzling TV camera lights illuminated his slight frame. Dressed in the professional uniform of tech startups everywhere (jeans, a T-shirt and a blazer), he appeared to be soaking up his moment in the spotlight, which is due almost entirely to the media’s sudden interest in bitcoin, a new digital currency.
Short in stature, Mr. Shrem calmly squared his piercing green eyes to the camera lens and began explaining the complex nature of bitcoin to the video crew from the blog The Street. They were there to film a segment on Mr. Shrem’s new venue, EVR (pronounced “ever”), in which he purchased a stake thanks in large part to his investments in bitcoin, and which, in early April, became the first bar in New York to accept bitcoin as a form of payment.
That irrepressible scamp Larry Flynt is at it again and this time his target is Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. CNN reports that Mr. Flynt, chief porn viewer and publisher of infamous skin mag Hustler, will pay $1 million for access to “documented evidence concerning” Mr. Romney’s withheld tax returns–or even better, documents about the former Massachusetts governor’s “offshore assets, bank accounts and business partnerships.”
Hustler will officially advertise the offer in full-page ads slated for publication in the Sunday Washington Post and the Tuesday edition of USA Today. The ads ask “what is [Romney] hiding?” and promise to “publish your verified story” in addition to the $1 million.
Comic by Rasmus Rasmussen, Z1Xwitch ArtWork)
It was a tweet from a stranger that crystallized the concept of Bitcoin for Bruce Wagner. “I can explain the benefit of Bitcoin in four words,” one of Mr. Wagner’s 12,000-some Twitter followers wrote. “Briefcases full of cash.”
At the time, briefcases full of pennies seemed more apt—one unit of the new virtual currency was then worth $0.06. Then, in one day, the price of a Bitcoin jumped to $0.22. Mr. Wagner, a former I.T. specialist who now produces and stars in his own web TV shows, became obsessed with the things. He sat at his computer, too excited to eat, reading the myriad white papers, trade blogs, technical analyses and forum discussions about Bitcoin. For five days, he hardly slept. He just kept thinking, This is amazing. This is going to change everything.
The last time he’d been this excited was when Windows came out. He got his hands on some Bitcoins and sold when the price doubled. It kept climbing. He invested more.
Bitcoin is Internet gold, a digital currency developed by a community of programmers in 2009 that represents the first plausible manifestation of an unregulated global “cryptocurrency” first imagined by anarchist computer hackers in the late 90’s.