London Bitcoin ATM breaks: but does anybody care?

The broken Bitcoin ATM at the Vape Lab, Shoreditch.
The broken Bitcoin ATM at the Vape Lab, Shoreditch. Photo: Eilidh Wagstaff

A makeshift ‘out of order’ sign is stuck over one of London’s inaugural bitcoin ATMs. Is this broken machine a metaphor for the fall of the Bitcoin digital currency in the capital? Claudio Ravinelli, who works at the Shoreditch e-cigarette bar where the ATM is based, thinks it might be.

Watching a community form

Vape lab barman Claudio Ravinelli
Vape Lab barman Claudio Ravinelli. Photo: Eilidh Wagstaff

Claudio is a good person to talk to about Bitcoin. He’s not a speculator or a detractor when it comes to cryptocurrencies. He just happens to work at the Vape Lab, one of a number of London businesses which accept Bitcoin, so he sees first-hand who’s using the currency and how often.

A lot of what Claudio knows about Bitcoin he’s overheard from CoinScrum members who meet weekly at the Vape Lab. CoinScrum – the world’s largest BitCoin meet-up group- hosts a get-together for cryptocurrency experts and fans at the bar every Tuesday from 4pm until 8pm.

“A melting pot” of people attend these sessions according to Claudio. “There aren’t just white collars. Sure you get brokers who work in city but you also have random people who are just interested in Bitcoin and you get young people who want to start a Bitcoin business. You don’t get just one type of person,” he says.

During these Tuesday meet-ups practically every transaction at the Vape Lab is made using Bitcoin. But during the rest of the week, after the Bitcoin enthusiasts have cleared out, it’s very rare that anyone buys anything using the currency.

Claudio jokes:

“At the moment I think Bitcoin is just for brokers or for criminals. I can’t see my mother going to pay for her groceries using Bitcoin.”

He makes an important point. Bitcoin is struggling to shake off its reputation as the criminal underworld’s currency of choice.

Betting against Bitcoin

The Vape Lab, Shoredtich
The Vape Lab, Shoredtich. Photo: Eilidh Wagstaff

The ATM has been out of service for the last three days, but the Vape Lab’s customers don’t seem to have noticed. In the hour or so I’m at the Lab no one asks about the ATM, but dozens come in to buy vape sticks.

It’s interesting to compare the cryptocurrency and the e-cigarette industries. Both are in their infancy and have a whiff of sleaziness about them. The question is will either of them really take off?

Claudio, for one, is rooting for e-cigarettes:

“For me Bitcoin is like rocket science. I’m interested in vaping.”

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