The Case for Physical Cryptocurrency Gift Cards

Can you hand cryptocurrency out your car window to a homeless person? Nope.

Joe Collins
Dec 11, 2020 · 5 min read

I am working on what people call a good bad idea. Or a bad good idea. I don’t know. I’m making physical gift cards for cryptocurrencies and digital assets, and it’s actually pretty cool.

Its recipe includes some smart contracts made from scratch, a pinch of augmented reality, and business cards.

Monies — Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Let’s talk about why having a cryptocurrency in physical form would be something worth making.

I know you’re skeptical.

Why make a physical gift card for cryptocurrencies?

As the subtitle of this article suggests: there are some things you can do with physical currencies that you just can’t do with virtual currencies.

And yes I know, there are way more things you can do with digital currencies than you can do with physical currencies. But we are not talking about which one has more strengths (it’s digital currencies), we’re saying each has strengths and weaknesses.

Here are the top three pros of hard currency (as they relate to cryptocurrencies) as I see them.

1. You don’t have to know the person you’re giving it to

This is a bit of a loaded topic but it’s an important one: in the future, are we going to give cryptocurrency to homeless men and women?

People at present are less and less likely to carry cash on hand, thus fewer people giving any money to the homeless (“I don’t have any cash on me”). If we move towards a future where we are all using digital currency then what happens there? Do we ask the homeless person for a QR code for their wallet for us to send some money to? That seems unlikely.

(I can see alternative solutions being born from blockchain and cryptocurrency like public or “charitable staking” where your interest goes to supporting the homeless community in your area, but that may be a topic for a whole other article. Unrelated but we should pay all teachers 3x their current salaries at least, please).

With hard currency, it just takes a moment or two to hand something over to someone that has value. You don’t need to know anything about the person, you don’t even need to speak, and you don’t need to depend on that other person having a computer or a phone for receiving the money.

Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

At present that isn’t really possible with cryptocurrencies.

2. It can be asynchronous — receiving and redeeming are two separate events

Asynchronicity is a common term in software development but for those unfamiliar, it means that two events don’t have to happen at the same time.

When you give a gift to someone it is synchronous for the receiver in the giver. You give and at that moment they receive.

When you send cryptocurrency to someone it is synchronous. The asset leaves your wallet and at that moment enters their wallet. (For programmers out there: yes the call to the relevant blockchain is asynchronous, at least usually, but the actions of giving and receiving happen at the same time once the transaction is completed).

Sending money by mail, though, is asynchronous. The money leaves your pocket, is in transition, and then days, weeks, months, or even years later, it is received by the intended recipient. In between the money is on hiatus (or “loading”) where it isn’t really owned by anyone.

In other words, you can slip a twenty under someone’s front door and they’ll get it later.

For you, dear reader — Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Of course, there are ways to send digital assets asynchronously. You could say “send this person this amount of ether in two hours”. That is asynchronous under this definition. But that’s not the point.

Instead, what I’m getting is that receiving and redeeming are two separate and distinct events when giving a gift card.

This is important for cryptocurrencies because it is easy to receive something physically (you just take it), but redeeming it (or receiving it virtually) assumes that you have a wallet already, you know your public address, and you kind of understand how the whole schtick works.

To put it another way: when you give physical cryptocurrency you do the easy part right then and there, and let them do the harder part (accessing their public address copy/pasting etc…) later, on their own time in a stress-free environment.

3. It’s fun, it’s memorable, it has the potential to be magical

I love reading. I have a kindle and I’ve read a whole bunch of books on it, it’s great. This isn’t a plug for amazon or anything it’s just convenient for travelling and I can read with the backlight on in a tent while camping. I love convenience.

I love paper books more than that kindle. I’m sure many of you can relate. I like the look of paper books and I like the feel. I like the smell. I like having a bookcase. I like knowing how long a book is at a glance. I like graphic novels, art books, and children's books — have you ever tried reading any of those on a kindle?

So many books — Photo by Jonathan Francisca on Unsplash

So there’s magic in the physical world and there always will be. Things that have mass, have volume, and have balance, have power.

Think of a piggy bank. Imagine yourself dropping a quarter into its ceramic hindquarters. Feel the rattling as you pick it up and shake it and when it’s full! Hear the smash and feel the excitement as you take the outcome of months of couch cushion scrounging.

A virtual pig on a computer screen virtually smashing could never make me feel that same way. You get my point.

The future of currency should be futuristic! It is futuristic, surely, but for most people cryptography, blockchain, distributed ledgers, bitcoin, etc… are all just buzzwords that they’re slowly learning not to hate. They are intangibles in some virtual universe.

We can do better than that.

Can’t we?

I didn’t really get to the project itself, I’ll cover that more later.

Joe Collins is a writer and software developer. He has worked as an engineer in the programmatic advertising, clean energy, and ski industries. He’s currently developing augmented reality web applications and decentralized applications.

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Joe Collins

Written by

Software engineer — functional programming evangelist — language enthusiast — life-long reader — film-buff — dog trainer — music player — creator

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +793K followers.

Joe Collins

Written by

Software engineer — functional programming evangelist — language enthusiast — life-long reader — film-buff — dog trainer — music player — creator

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +793K followers.

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