Bitcoin and the Borderless Labor Market
By Steven Kane
For many knowledge workers (any worker who can do their work purely online), the ability to work flexible work hours on the Internet in any location is already a reality. However, two key types of technologies will converge that will take workers far beyond the current landscape of online employment: telepresence technologies and cryptocurrencies (namely Bitcoin). Imagine being able to work for anyone in the world, anywhere, at any time, almost as if they were in the same room. Now imagine that the person you work for over the Internet pays you in a purely digital international cryptocurrency that is basically as good as cash. As a worker who may have been tied down to a local job market, you would probably find your employment options opening up to a dizzying array of possibilities.
One major problem with working online is the problem of lack of presence. This problem can be summed up as the inability to form strong working relationships with others due to a lack of their audio and visual presence in your room. Whether the reasons are superficial or not, people do not tend to form strong relationships with other people who they cannot see or hear in a clear manner. Email and chat completely lack the necessary exposure to a person’s nuanced speech and body language. Additionally, audio still lacks body language, as well as does grainy video. In order to build lasting trust and strong business and work relationships, people need clear video and audio of their Internet based employees, employers and business partners. This video and audio needs to be clear enough to convey a sense of presence to all parties in a meeting. Fortunately, the technology to enable excellent telepresence is currently being developed. One such technology that appears to be promising is wall mounted screens and webcams that have high definition video and audio. The screens can of course split into sections to display multiple individuals for a meeting. Imagine having such a wall mounted screen in your home office that is hooked up to a fiber optic line to handle the large amounts of data necessary for a high definition audio/video feed. With this screen in place and a common application to instantly connect to others over the Internet, the problem of lack of presence should be largely solved. Even if such technology will not be able to completely convey a sense of presence, people’s attitudes and perceptions will probably change to bridge the gap between true presence and telepresence.
With the problem of lack of presence solved, yet another problem remains. The problem, of course, is payment. In order for a person to be able to work for any set of individuals in the world, they must either pay high fees to exchange their employer’s fiat currency to their own country’s fiat currency, or they must get paid in a currency that is recognized internationally. Fortunately, the cryptocurrency Bitcoin is an internationally recognized currency that anyone can receive within 1 hour and that can be exchanged for a large number of fiat currencies worldwide for relatively low fees (or be spent directly with certain merchants). Therefore, all Internet based employers need to do is acquire Bitcoins to pay their Internet based employees. Since Bitcoin is pretty much impossible to forge or double spend and has irreversible transactions, it is as good as cash. Also, Bitcoin is anonymous if a person takes care to tumble the coins, rendering it impossible for someone to link them to the coins. The political consequences of the anonymity of Bitcoin could be explosive.
With telepresence technology and Bitcoin a worker could literally choose who they wanted to work for by the hour in their own home. Or they could form strong relationships with a chummy set of employers or business partners from many different countries and work with them exclusively on long term projects. The combinations of business partners, employers and employees would not only be limitless, but they could change at an incredibly rapid pace. A ‘speed dating’ application for business partners, employees and employers would no doubt be available. Someone could instantly connect with someone on their telepresence screen and decide in 1 second whether or not to do business with them. Use your own imagination to think of all the ways telepresence and Bitcoin could be used or what other applications or technologies could be factored in. In any event, fancy telepresence technology is not necessary for doing online work for Bitcoin now. A search for Bitcoin job boards will turn up plenty of interesting links.