I attempt to leave the US dollar while living on the most remote island chain on earth, Hawai’i.
Is it possible or have I drank the proverbial Kool-Aid?
I haven’t always had the best relationship with the US Dollar. As an inner city youth, I most commonly associated the allure of greenbacks with the drug dealers that controlled various sections of territory within my district. I’d see them sitting on a corner trying dubiously to stay hidden while at the same time desperately wanting everyone to see just how much cash they had on hand; big wads of dangerously earned USD.
Later on I came to realize just how much control over my life “the almighty dollar” had when the recession of the early 90s hit and my family lost our home in the aftermath. It was the first time I saw my family buckle under pressure, financial or otherwise. It was also the first time I realized just how much of a stranglehold the USD had on the quality of my life. It’s easy to say you don’t need money to be happy but it becomes much harder to say that when the most basic needs, such as food and shelter, are taken away from you or become threatened.
So suffice to say, I don’t feel a lot of sentimentality towards the dollar. In fact I’d be glad to see it go. However, just how does one give up USD while living in the United States? Will I completely destroy my quality of life? Is it even possible? After all, currency isn’t something you choose. Currency has, for my lifetime at least, always been a direct result of the geography of my birth… at least until now.
Now with the invention of the world’s first truly transnational currency, it doesn’t matter where you live… or does it? With Bitcoin’s emergence there is a lot of talk about finally creating the world’s first truly global economy. We hear tales of connecting small farms in Africa via Nokia dumb phones to a complete banking network with participants from across the globe. We hear about the possibility of people in Argentina avoiding the next currency crisis by simply choosing not to hold or transact the Peso any longer.
In fact, the Bitcoin community is rife with talk like this and it often strikes outsiders as being extremely exaggerated. So much so that I often have to preface things I say about the technology with, “now this is going to sound completely hyperbolic but if you bear with me.” It’s very easy to sound like a snake oil salesmen when you are trying to explain to others why you are so passionately involved with Blockchain technology.
Yet even if every seemingly hyperbolic statement about Bitcoin and blockchain technology eventually comes true, what does that mean for us right now? Can I feed myself with Bitcoin today? Can I provide shelter for myself and my loved ones? Can I keep the lights on and the internet flowing?
Even more difficult to answer is, can I do all of the above while living in the most expensive part of the United States, which also just happens to be the most remote island chain on the planet. Oh and to add insult to injury, Forbe’s also rated it the worst place in the US to do business.
Am I crazy for even attempting to pull this off?
Is swearing off the US Dollar a bit like saying you’re giving up clean water, food, and shelter?
Well the short answer to all of the above is… maybe (especially the crazy part, if you ask around). The long answer is I’m currently in the process of finding out. Taking a clue from Andreas Antonopoulos, I have gone out and begun trading my skills and services for Bitcoin. This includes writing articles (like this one), running a small media production firm, and most recently launching Hawaii’s first Bitcoin dispenser alongside my fellow partners at Pacific Blockchain.
As a result over half of all my current income comes in the form of cryptocurrency. In terms of actual USD value it should be enough to survive on (barely). However having value stored in a digital wallet does not necessarily mean you’ve got all your bases covered. After all, if you can’t use it for your everyday shopping what good is it?
Well first off, who says you can’t use it for your everyday shopping? Utilizing services like Gyft and eGifter it’s actually possible to quickly and easily use Bitcoin to buy all of your basic needs in a variety of stores… most of which don’t exist here in Hawaii (first snag). We do have a Whole Foods though and while it’s not my first choice for a number of reasons it still remains a viable option for supplying my home with all the groceries it needs.
Gyft also covers CVS which in turn covers a lot of other random needs one might have here and there. I am still hoping they will add Safeway Supermarket to their list soon but for now I can actually buy most of the things I need using Gyft’s unique service. If I have time, I can also use other competing services to buy Costco Cash Cards using Bitcoin (which interestingly enough allows me to buy-pass the need for a Costco membership). The service called eGifter will also allow me to buy new sneakers at Foot Locker, go to the movies via Fandango, or fix up the house by visiting Home Depot or Lowes.
Of course if I’m in no real rush an Amazon Prime account suddenly becomes extraordinarily useful. While I don’t get free two day air like most people, I still get free shipping. It just takes a few days longer to get here. So for medicine, food, clothing, electronics, and all sorts of odds and ends I can more or less participate in the economy as easily as I always have using just Gyft’s lineup of stores.
Yet the looming question is of course, can I pay my rent and utilities with Bitcoin? In that regard, Hawaii’s lower adoption rate suddenly becomes much more of a hurdle. In contrast, Canadians can already use a service like Bylls to pay for their utilities. Yet while services like Rentalutions theoretically make it possible to pay rent on a new apartment via Bitcoin, it doesn’t help me much in my existing place.
So unless I want to move (something I loathe doing given my childhood experiences with the activity), I must actually convince my landlord, who complains often about the sluggishness and high costs of bank wires, to accept bitcoin (second snag). Now, whether or not I can convince a much older, traditionalist to accept digital currency as payment still remains to be seen.
For now, my business partners and I have begun pushing adoption in the region by offering free integration services to local businesses. We begin by showing them the benefits of accepting Bitcoin before setting them up with the tools, services, and information they’ll need to operate effectively in the space.
Once I have enough solid referrals singing the praises of Bitcoin integration, I plan to make my case with my landlord. In the meantime, trying to get my internet provider, Time Warner, to allow me to pay them in Bitcoin seems an even more daunting task. However, with Paypal rushing towards Bitcoin integration and services like Xapo piggybacking on the existing Visa/Mastercard/Debit networks I may not have to do any convincing at all… provided I don’t mind paying extra in fees.
For now, I am currently stuck with one foot in and one foot out of the door. Yet I’ve been using USD for over 30 years. It stands to reason it would be a hard relationship to end.
Yet as new innovation comes out every day, as the adoption rate of the global populace continues to rise, as more investors begin to support the network, as more merchants begin to accept the currency, it seems only a matter of time before even here, on the most remote island chain on the planet, I can be free of USD without sacrificing my quality of life.
Until then, I’ll be back with updates as I progress. If you know of any services out there I’ve missed or need some advice on how to make the switch yourself, feel free to say so in the comments.