Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s slop for 30 days straight and didn’t die. Surely he can live on bitcoin alone for a week and survive.
That’s what the Super Size Me director and star attempted to do in last night’s installment of Morgan Spurlock Inside Man, his docu-series on CNN. And, for the most part, he succeeded, give or take a missed meal or a few.
“I’m pretty much like everyone else,” the handlebar-moustached host said at the top of the episode, filmed last year when a single bitcoin was still worth around $630. “I’ve heard the news stories of bitcoin, but I really don’t know what it is.” The 44-year-old documentarian is far from alone there. A full three-quarters of Americans still don't know what the world’s first digital currency is and they have zero interest in using it, a recent study found.
Of course, before Spurlock could use bitcoin, he had to get his hands on some first, which he quickly accomplished at the buzzing Bitcoin Center NYC, not accidentally “just a stone’s throw from the New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street.” There, in a “sweaty” throng that he described as a “really smart guys’ frat party,” he acquired his first bitcoin using an Android phone and a bitcoin wallet app called Aegis Wallet. (Oddly, the app’s website is now MIA.)
Spurlock forked over what looked like $630 for one BTC. Man, those were the days. One bitcoin is now worth around $242, per CoinDesk.
Next, with a new “invisible” chunk of virtual cash burning a hole in his pocket, Spurlock sets out to “see what it can do.” But first he explained, aided by cool animations, that bitcoin is “just like any other currency,” except it requires no middle man and is anonymous, “well, sort of.”
But back to spending that fresh, hot BTC...starting with a fresh, hot slice of margherita pizza and a bottle of water. With a scan of his bitcoin wallet QR code on his smartphone screen, Spurlock scored both forms of sustenance from a bitcoin-friendly neighborhood pizzeria. The meal total: $5.27 or .0083 BTC. Success. “It was so easy! Look at that. Pow! I’m the king of bitcoin,” he boasted before digging in. Given its cheesy bitcoin history, pizza was an apropos first purchase.
Spurlock’s mellow bitcoin odyssey then takes him to a Brooklyn bodega, where he bought $42.72 worth of groceries in the cryptocurrency. The store owner said he clocks about 1,000 bitcoin transactions at his produce shop per month and that he prefers bitcoin payments to credit card payments. Why? Because they’re cheaper, safer and there’s no chargebacks, the shopkeeper said.
Not all shopkeepers are so keen on the virtual money, though. Several Spurlock tried to pay in bitcoin had never heard of it before. He also comes up cold when trying to pay his Time Warner cable bill and several other bills in bitcoin.
Midway through the show, Spurlock gets around to digging into the seedy underbelly of bitcoin and the growing fears of fraud plaguing the controversial currency in the wake of the fall of Mt. Gox and Ross Ulbricht’s recent conviction. To get some answers, he talked with legendary white-hat hacker Dan Kaminsky, Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), bitcoin booster Andreas Antonopoulos and Chris Tarbell, a former FBI agent who assisted in the takedown of Silk Road. With a reluctant guiding hand from Tarbell, Spurlock scored a “Faux-lex,” a fake Rolex Submariner, on the now defunct Silk Road 2.0. The illegal knockoff, “possibly taken from someone’s house earlier today,” Tarbell mused, totaled about .45 BTC (or about $285), express shipping and handling from Hong Kong included.
Spurlock’s journey eventually lands him at Coinminer, a bitcoin mining operation. He traveled to the startup’s Geneva, N.Y. factory, after buying a plane ticket to nearby Rochester with BTC on Expedia (and showed his entire bitcoin wallet address to the world in the process). He put together bitcoin mining processors at Coinminer for about a $200 day’s pay, paid out in, yep, bitcoin. By the end of his shift, he knew the basics of bitcoin’s blockchain backbone and his stomach was growling, but his hunger would not be satisfied in Geneva. Highlighting bitcoin’s continued lack of mass adoption, Spurlock wasn’t able to find one restaurant in town that accepted the nascent crytpocurrency.
“OK, so maybe I overestimated the popularity of bitcoin just a little bit,” he admitted, “and, in time, some of these restaurants might start accepting bitcoin, but not until it becomes immensely more popular...All I wish is that I could actually, like, eat bitcoin because I’m starving.”
In the end, Spurlock said trying to live off of bitcoin for a few days felt like years. Hey, at least he didn’t gain 25 pounds and nearly blow out his liver like he did in Super Size Me. Check back with him after the world super sizes bitcoin, which could be a few decades, at least.