Bitcoin Curious? UWS Blockchain Center Invites Locals to Learn About the ‘Inevitable’ Financial Future

Bitcoin fans enjoying their brethren at Blockchain Center on Broadway & 83rd.

By Joy Bergmann

The mood was downright ebullient at Tuesday’s Bitcoin Happy Hour for cryptocurrency enthusiasts held at Blockchain Center — a loft-like space at 2307 Broadway (83rd). One contributing factor? The first Bitcoin-focused exchange-traded fund had just launched, with about $981 million worth of shares traded on its first day, marking another major milestone toward Bitcoin’s acceptance by mainstream investors.

“It’s the second-most traded ETF in history. A billion. Day one,” says Richard Levin, 38, co-host of the biweekly event, an Upper West Sider and vice president at Cryptonews. 

Whether you find the whole digital currency world frightening or fascinating, Levin says, “you will participate in the future because it’s inevitable. If you choose to participate now, you’re rewarded with massive gains because we’re so early.”

Many people [including this reporter] still do not fully understand the basics of Bitcoin and blockchain technology, something Blockchain Center seeks to change as an educational hub for newbies as well as true believers.

“We offer knowledge,” says Anna Gizburg, its director. “There are new financial systems coming out that will truly revolutionize the way we conduct business…It’s crucial for the community to be educated and for everyone to be able to participate and succeed.”  The team encourages folks to stop in and talk about blockchain with experts. For free. “I want to create a welcoming environment for people…for anyone interested in the new systems and learning more,” she says. 

Being located on the Upper West Side is bringing more “everyday” people into the fold, including parents and kids, says Mackinzie Dae, 33, the director of operations. “It’s a place to educate yourself, to ask questions without being judged.” 

Neophytes are welcome to drop in to ask questions 

So, do we dare ask the most fundamental question: What is Bitcoin? And why is its value skyrocketing past the $60,000 mark after debuting at less than a dollar back in 2009?

Succinct explanations are tough to come by. 

Turns out, talking about digital money that’s earned by computers solving difficult math problems [mining Bitcoin tokens], digital money with transactions that are anonymized, authenticated and recorded on a permanent, decentralized, digital ledger that’s visible to everyone [the blockchain], first forces discussion around the very nature of money itself, especially the greenbacks in your wallet. 

“Money is something that we just trust in,” says Levin. Prior to the U.S. leaving the gold standard in 1971, “that piece of paper was worth a fraction of gold. But that’s gone.” Now central banks can simply decide to print money, he says. “Every time they do that, the dollar in your pocket is worth less and less.” 

Levin says Bitcoin offers an alternative way to store wealth that is deflationary because it has scarcity built in. “There will only ever be 21 million Bitcoin,” a figure to be reached in 2140. Each Bitcoin can be divided into 100 million pieces, called “sats”, he says. “Eventually we’ll use sats like dollars. ‘I bought a cheeseburger for two sats.’”

A global computer network moves this digital money from person to person without needing intermediaries like a credit card company or bank. It’s somewhat analogous to sending an email versus a letter, he says. “The time and effort of licking the stamp, paying for it, or boom— firing it off,” says Levin.

Bitcoin fans often mention a powerful use case in remittances where folks working abroad send funds back to their families. With Bitcoin, they say, there will be no need for Western Union, for example, or its fees. “Currently there’s a Lightning Network on Bitcoin where you can send money for free,” Levin says. “The world is changing. You’re moving towards this digital world. You can’t stop it now.” And if you haven’t jumped in yet, you’re not too late, he says. “I think we’re essentially, if you equate this to the internet, this is like 1998. [Today] is like America Online.”

Hanging out at Bitcoin Happy Hour Tuesday evening

Mira, a 37-year-old MBA meetup attendee who works in international logistics, is all for it. “I am here for the revolution. Bitcoin. I think it’s going to change the world,” she says, pointing to transformations in developing countries made possible by decentralization. “It’s giving [unbanked] people access to the financial world…it gives them a vehicle to save that their government can’t confiscate or debase. It’s going to bring people out of poverty.” 

Or as Nick Spanos, a Bitcoin pioneer and Blockchain Center’s founder, says in the documentary Banking On Bitcoin, “This is a monetary revolution. Bitcoin is the honest currency.” 

Not everyone is a convert. 

While billionaire investors like George Soros have added Bitcoin to their portfolios, and a Fidelity Digital Assets global survey of 1100 institutional investors found that 52% were already invested in digital assets, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon recently asserted “Bitcoin is worthless,” and New York magazine interviewed multiple soothsayers — ones who foresaw the 2008 stock market crash — calling Bitcoin a bubble .  

And for all the freedom and opportunity this new world seems to promise, headwinds and nefarious behavior have also shown up to the party.

In September, El Salvador became the first country to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender; but two weeks later, China declared all cryptocurrency transactions to be illegal. People are also waking up to the huge electricity requirements of Bitcoin-mining computer operations — more than entire countries like Sweden and Argentina — and their attendant carbon footprint, contributing to climate change. And ransomware attacks on fuel companies, meat packers, hospitals and more have locked up vital systems, compelling crypto ransom payments to hackers, some $400 million globally, according to the White House.  

In short, it’s complicated. But fans say significant growing pains are to be expected when a $2 trillion industry gets built in a few short years and improvements are underway on these security and environmental issues. “Nobody in Bitcoin is looking to destroy the earth,” says Levin. 

Fence-sitters may fret about the many variables at play, but there’s no denying that fear-of-missing-out feeling when yet another headline trumpets how much Bitcoin is increasing in market value, up 8X since October 2019. Some speculate the price could climb to $500,000 in the next 10 years. Or it could go to zero. Is there a way to dip a toe in these tempting waters without going under? 

Levin says novices can easily open an account on a well-established exchange platform like Coinbase or Gemini to make a small, starter Bitcoin buy. But before you click, he says, take the time to “educate yourself a little.” 

Even digital devotees crave in-person connection

The Blockchain Center team invites anyone looking to learn to email them at info@blockchaincenter.com, or check out the next Bitcoin Happy Hour Meetup on Tuesday November 2nd at 6 pm. 

Seems even hardcore digital denizens find connecting in person a superior ideas-swapping technology.  

“The vibe…it’s nice to be here,” says Fernando, a 44-year-old investment banker and Upper West Sider. “Most of us spend a lot of time on Twitter talking to people we don’t know. And then you are here in the Center and you actually meet face to face with people that like what you like and invest in what you invest. It’s really good.” 

NEWS | 31 comments | permalink
    1. D-Rex says:

      Yea….. Funding criminal activity across the globe.

      At best, a pyramid scheme.

    2. George CPW says:

      In early 1637, a single tulip bulb cost 10 times the annual income of a skilled Dutch artisan. And then, in February of 1637, it didn’t. Are bitcoins today’s tulips?

    3. Michael says:

      Bitcoin is not good for the environment

      At its present level, Bitcoin consumes 81.51 terawatt hours (TWh) annually

      • Charles says:

        Michael:

        Thank you for making the distinction between Bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies.

        Bitcoin may have been the first, but now
        There is XRM (gold backed) will be used by banks;
        XLM (silver backed) used by people and banks;
        And then Palladium (platinum backed)
        Dogecoin, etc, etc.

        My question is why would I want to invest in XLM etc. in addition to having my asset backed cash in the bank? Will crypto be the new investment arm like the stock market has been? No pun intended :))

      • cointankerous says:

        Perhaps do the research before regurgitating traditional-finance backed mainstream media depictions of Bitcoin.

    4. V.N says:

      I bought one bitcoin in Dec 2013 for about $600 and could not convince any of my friends to do the same. Since then quite a few of them changed their mind but now, with the bitcoin making news almost daily, everyone is extremely polarized. Not only the amateurs like myself, but even the financial gurus.

    5. Truth and Reason says:

      Why am I not surprised that so far most of the comments are no coiners who have no idea what they’re talking about?

      • Michael says:

        All cryptos are not on par with each other is one of the points.

        that said just know your investment/trading strategy. The more investment products to be had the better that will give you a chance to perhaps separate the roses from the tulips. There will be winners and losers the more information you collect on your product of choice the better. One thing is for sure there is always volatility being long gamma is better the being short if you can.

      • cointankerous says:

        It’s the UWS. They feed on MSM. They’re NGMI and will HFSP. NGU

    6. Cyn (Cyndy) Ick says:

      Re: “People are also waking up to the huge electricity requirements of Bitcoin-mining computer operations — more than entire countries like Sweden and Argentina”
      DEFINITELY! According to one site, ONE Bitcoin transaction uses 1,779 Kwh (Kilowatt hours); compare that to the 148.63 Kwh used by 100,000 VISA transactions.
      But wait…Bitcoin WILL make us all turn green — with nausea.

      • V.N. says:

        The bitcoin transaction uses practically no energy. Maybe you are referring to the generation (mining) of the bitcoin. Not the same thing!

    7. John says:

      Good way for rich people to complete transactions without paying taxes

      • cointankerous says:

        Shortsighted. Take a look at El Salvador.

        • sg says:

          Really…you’re actually saying to follow El,Salvador’s lead…no thank you. And no, I’m not a racist for saying so.

          • cointankerous says:

            No one called you a racist. Perhaps their leader is imperfect, but he has his constituency’s best interests at heart. Give it time.

    8. Upper Jess Side says:

      The focus on bitcoin is sort of off and likely not a full picture of blockchain technology. The bitcoin blockchain is one of many blockchains and it is specifically designed to store and verify transactions on its chain, and aside from the huge environmental impact of “proof of work” consensus mechanism it uses, it’s pretty good at it. It’s slow but it works. I suspect that in the future, there is going to be “central bank digitize currency” (“CBDC”) that will also operate on a block chain, and governments are going to find ways to discourage business from accepting bitcoin (as China had already done in the very authoritarian way of outfight banning it). At that point, bitcoin will be a store of wealth like gold, but without many real world applications. The more interesting applications for decentralized finance are actually being built on other blockchains, like the etherium blockchain, which is designed to allow for the execution of smart contracts in etherium compatible coins. That allows for real decentralized financial products. The current crop are just ways to trade coins, but more is on the way. And more are on the way. There are other blockchains out there as well that have similar smart contract functionality. That is where the future of finance is being built. Not sure what this has to do with the upper west side but it’s fun to think about the future!

    9. Newcavendish says:

      Inevitable? Nonsense. Unless the overall libertarian project to pull down society is inevitable. A financial dystopia and trap for the gullible. The moral equivalent of anti-vaxxing.

    10. L. BRAVERMAN says:

      I wrote up an extended comment about the fear of bitcoin weakening the Treasury Dept. of the USA, in its task of implementing sanctions and restrictions on attempted and perpetrated financial transactions from malign actors, thus leaving an actionable trail, including cyber criminals, rogue regimes, drug cartels, nuclear and wannabee nuclear regional powers, etc. but… when I hit POST COMMENT, the whole thing abruptly disappeared into some invisible cyber abyss.

      What up with that?

      • cointankerous says:

        Probably because you would be spreading disinformation. Fiat currency and commercial banks have been more of a facilitator of criminal behavior than cryptocurrency. Just look at all the fines that have been paid.

        • sg says:

          Disinformation, the most incorrectly used word. Just have the guts to call it what it is…information that the (in this case WSR) censors, err moderators don’t agree with.

      • sg says:

        Don’t you know…you can’t believe differently than those running the platform. By labeling your thoughts/opinion as disinformation, they think that makes is factual. Pure nonsense of course, but that’s where we are.

        • cointankerous says:

          Actually, all of my comments have gone through. I have found WSR to be fairly receptive to perhaps controversial and, dare I say, potentially conservative or pro-Finance views. Those who speak ill of Bitcoin simply have not done the research. It’s more than an investment. It will cure many of the world’s ill, most notably the income equality that is causing the environment that polarizes WSR, the UWS, the city, the country and the world. Global central banking has perpetrated the income gap more so than any other institution. We’re fighting over social justice, masks, vaccines and every other damn thing, while global currencies devalue and the rich get richer. I implore everyone to seriously do the research. It is beyond enlightening on many levels. Many of history’s global icons have portended energy-backed currency. The MSM bows its head to the legacy finance system that has enslaved the world. Wake up, everyone. It’s not a conspiracy theory. Bitcoin is here, it’s noble, it’s growing, and you will have to accede to at some point. Thankfully, it is inevitable.

    11. Peter says:

      The amount of energy used by Bitcoin alone is projected to raise global temperature by 2 degrees celsius with the next three decades!
      Five countries have outlawed crytocurrencies: China, Bolivia,
      Indonesia, Turkey and Egypt. As should all others!

      • cointankerous says:

        Another misinformed hysteric. Do the research instead of relying on one-sided mainstream media depictions corrupted by the legacy finance system.

        • Charles says:

          Your efforts are noble.

          Without EBS, they will be for naught.

          Sr. & EBS would go a long way.

    12. AC says:

      At 60K, most people believe bitcoin to be out of their price range. Reminds me of 2017, when I thought $900 was out of my range. This is an emerging industry, which is still in its infancy. The explosive potential of this emerging market is still unable to be comprehended.

      Research and educate yourself. But also be aware. There are several hundreds of crypto tokens out there. I suggest you stay with the top 10 (market cap). Keep your eyes on ADA Cardano a blockchain play. Blockchain is what makes cryptocurrency (Bitcoin) work. Think of this time as in 1980 computers were just emerging, you might’ve missed the boat then. Hopefully you don’t miss this one now!

    13. Irate Partisan says:

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Everything is happening on the Upper West Side!

    14. Karolina says:

      A very interesting and informative. Bitcoin is fully open-source and decentralized. This means that anyone has access to the entire source code at any time. Well e krona is an online crypto trading platform that allows users to make automated digital currency trades. E Krona. fully regulated crypto exchange is the only approved and legal distributor. Where investors will buy or sell crypto. For more information, you can visit our website.