This September during Frosh week, the McGill Cryptocurrency Club (MCC) initiated a “bitcoin airdrop,” handing out paper envelopes with vouchers for bitcoin, a form of digital currency, to be redeemed within three months. According to Michael Gord, a U4 Management student and co-founder of MCC, over $1,000 in bitcoin has been given away to McGill students to date, with around a 50 per cent claim rate.
“Bitcoin is basically two things. […] It’s a payment technology that allows for quick, cheap, international money transfers that are incorruptible and unhackable. The second thing is bitcoin the currency itself, and that’s the currency that runs on this payment network,” explained MCC co-founder Eric Maurin, a U3 Psychology and Marketing student who works as a broker and consultant at the Montreal Bitcoin Embassy, in an interview with The Daily.
“The airdrops are basically meant as a way to seed some bitcoin into the McGill community, so that when we do have [some] stores accepting bitcoin, people already have something to spend,” Maurin noted.
The MCC began in October 2014, after Gord and Maurin, along with three other students, discovered a mutual interest in Bitcoin. According to Gord, the club has grown from its five founders to over eighty active members in the span of a year.
“[Bitcoin is] a payment technology that allows for quick, cheap, international money transfers that are incorruptible and unhackable.”
Invented in 2008, bitcoin reached peak buzz in 2013, and has sincce lost some of its cutting-edge appeal as currency. Bitcoin was long associated with the online drug marketplace Silk Road, one of the first sites to accept it, and the Guardian reported that the currency briefly plummeted in value after the site was shut down in 2013.
Other recent criticisms were brought up in an article in the Economist, which describes bitcoin as “the latest techy attempt to spread a ‘Californian ideology’ which promises salvation through technology-induced decentralization while ignoring and obfuscating the realities of power – and happily concentrating vast wealth in the hands of an elite.” But members of the MCC insist on its continuing relevance as both data-transfer technology and practical currency.
In a video produced by the MCC, Peg Brunelle, a career advisor at the Desautels Faculty of Management, talks about the benefits of bitcoin’s global usability. “I think it certainly can take us to the next level, in terms of being a global community,” Brunelle said.
In February, the club also arranged for Gerts to accept bitcoin for the night of their launch party. In April, at Open Air Pub (OAP) Lite, Maurin and Gord distributed free bitcoin to attendees, and Alex Fonseca, one of the co-founders of MCC, accepted bitcoin in exchange for tickets for burgers and drinks.
“So what happens is we would be sitting there accepting all the bitcoin, then the system actually measures what the price was at the time of the purchase and then we go and pay [OAP] cash at the end of the day […] valued at the time of the purchase,” explained Maurin. “It allows the merchant to accept bitcoin without actually holding any bitcoin or being afraid that the value might go up or down.”
Currently, the MCC is pushing for McGill to accept payments in bitcoin for everything from meal plans to student fees.
MCC members highlighted the convenience of bitcoin for international students in particular. “My parents pay hundreds of dollars worth of fees just to send me money for school,” Maurin said. “Parents can send their kid bitcoin, or can send the school bitcoin, and it would totally limit the fees,” added Gord.
“I don’t really think that I would ever buy bitcoin myself, I don’t really see a benefit to it [over] other, governmentally-backed, currencies.”
In an interview with The Daily, U2 Anatomy and Cell Biology student Madison Luck expressed reservations about the currency. “I don’t really think that I would ever buy bitcoin myself, I don’t really see a benefit to it [over] other, governmentally-backed, currencies,” Luck told The Daily. “However, if someone gave me bitcoin, I would use it.”
Gord has been working on soliciting alumni donations in bitcoin, which are used to finance the airdrops. “The first bitcoin airdrop was at OAP, the second was around McGill […] and the third airdrop is 99 per cent going to be in Montreal and Toronto – it’ll be a tour. I say in five years, it’s going to be across Canada,” he added.
According to Maurin, in terms of future projects, the MCC aims to get all of the student-run businesses on campus to use the cryptocurrency.
“It tends to be easier to convince them to accept bitcoin because they don’t have to go through a whole process with a company. We’d love to have Subway accept bitcoin but you’re dealing with a much bigger company, a lot of bureaucracy.”
When asked about McGill’s financial incentive to adopt bitcoin, Gord commented, “I’m going to graduate in three months and I’m going to donate to McGill as an alumnus in bitcoin.”
“If they accept donations in bitcoin and they hold it in bitcoin […] the potential price of bitcoin could be up — we say this, and people don’t take it seriously — but it could be up in the couple hundred thousand dollars, if not millions, per bitcoin.” Currently, approximately 14 million bitcoins exist in the world, but the quantity is permanenly capped at 21 million.