The Old Shoreditch Station and the Battle for the Soul of Bitcoin

Francis Merlin Doody believes in Bitcoin as a new underground method of trading. It is attractive, he explains, because it stands apart from Britain’s “corrupt capitalist system”.

A self-declared conspiracy theorist living in Cable Street, a warehouse community of artists and musicians in Limehouse, Francis worries that the unregulated cryptocurrency may become subject to increasing government interference.

There were a lot of radicals who got involved in bitcoin because you could trade without essentially supporting the war efforts…But now the government have started taxing bitcoin for commercial purposes.

Doody, 32, works as a barrista at the Old Shoreditch Station, one of two bar venues run by the Jaguar Shoes Collective. The Collective collaborates regularly with local artists to bring art installations and artist’s work to their bars.

They have also made sure that the Old Shoreditch Station, at the heart of the silicon triangle, is one of the first venues in the country to accept Bitcoin payment, and have installed a Bitcoin ATM on the premises.

Future Coins Bitcoin ATM
Bitcoin ATM, Old Shoreditch Station BLOOMBERG

Bitcoin, Bitpay: So how does it all work?

Firstly, Francis explains Bitcoin payments work at Old Shoreditch Station.

The venue has an iphone behind the bar with an application called Bitpay on it. Once a customer want to pay off their bar tab, the code of that tab will be tapped into the app which then produces a QR code.

The customer then takes a photo of the QR code on their Bitpay app and the money is transferred across almost instantly.

Future Coins: the Bitcoin ATM

The sleek, white ATM machine works much like a normal one – only backwards.

Installed by a company called Future Coins which collects 3% commission on all transactions made – the lowest in the country, you put your money into this ATM. You walk in with cash, feed that into a small slot and the machine will automatically convert that into bitcoin in your “bitwallet”.

When you buy bitcoins online, Francis says, it takes quite a long time for it to convert to bitcoin and be transferred to your bitwallet. This machine, however, is instant.

So who’s using the Bitcoin ATM?

We get an average of 5 to 10 people a day come and use the machine. You get people with wads of cash, businessmen, from all walks of life really. It doesn’t seem to have a type, but it’s popular.

Is he is concerned about the many connections that have been made between bitcoin and crimes such as money laundering and drug dealing, given this is a largely unregulated marketplace?

He dismisses the reference to the infamous Silk Road, saying that anyone doing that kind of thing online is hardly going to walk into a cafe in plain sight and buy bitcoin, they would be more discreet.

Instead, it’s the people who are genuinely intrigued by the possibilities of bitcoin who are frequenting the Old Shoreditch Station.

For the bar, they are not paid a cut to operate the ATM, but it’s seen as a welcome boost to business.

It’s good for us to have it…it’s good for us to be seen as forward-thinking. We’re in the centre of Shoreditch…if there’s anywhere in the country where people are trying very, very hard to push through into the present moment of what’s in ‘right-now-this-minute’ and do away with what was popular literally the day before, it’s here.”

The battle for the soul of Bitcoin

The great unknown is whether Bitcoin will take off and lead a digital currency revolution, or whether it will eventually flop.

Rhian Lewis, co-founder of digital currency calculator Count My Crypto, tells Cryptocity that Bitcoin and its related technologies are going to shake up the current system as we know it.

The banking system is ripe for disruption, with its vested interests, structure and hierarchies. The question is, will the overhaul be grassroots or well-funded? Without a doubt, financial transactions are going to change – we just can’t say how just yet.

But if Bitcoin does lead to a revolution and goes mainstream, will the artistic community of places such as the Old Shoredtich Station then reject it and search for something new? The risk is there.

The publicity of the Silk Road saw Bitcoin’s value shoot up early this year to highs of nearly $1,200. But the enormous inflation was short-lived and the price has now bottomed out to an all time low of below $300. It was £252 on the day this article was first published.

So where to next – and who will it be bringing along for the ride?

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Source: The price of Bitcoin April – September 2014, Winkdex

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