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STEINBERG: I’ll take two semaphore flags and a 16X Powered Riser Adapter Card

a bitcoin logo

AP file photo

Once, the challenge was writing the new year on your checks.

A few days into 1994 you’d still be writing 1993.

Darn this relentless change!

Ah, hahahahaha.

Now we’ve got new devices and concepts flung at us like overripe tomatoes while the stalwarts crumble.

I had one of those moments last week when you can almost feel the howling winds of change.

Friday night, a friend asked my wife and me to stop over for dessert.

Tea. Christmas cookies. Doesn’t sound like the prelude to challenging your concept of the monetary system, does it?

So we’re sipping tea, nibbling cookies. Enter the son, back from college. Up from the basement where he’s . . . doing what? Guess! Running a train set? No. Mining crypto-currency? Yes. All the kids are doing it. We adults troop downstairs to watch.

A metal shelf. And a dozen or so black slabs of video cards, electronics. Glowing red lights. A flat screen spitting strings of numbers.

The kid speaks sentences that sound like the muted horn whank-wha speech of adults in a Peanuts cartoon. Then we’re back in the kitchen where I try to explain the nature of money. A dollar isn’t a real thing. The government creates them out of nothing. Now civilians can do the same. Cryptocurrency is private individuals saying their Bitcoin or Ethereum or whatever, has a certain value.

But where do these new currencies come from? Anyone can make them but must use complicated algorithms run on electronics, a process that eats electricity.

If that doesn’t make any sense, we can form a club. Shame we can’t monetize confusion.

Now it’s the next morning. And we have to make a payment, my wife announces, which involves, not mining imaginary money, but writing a check on paper and driving that physical check over to BMO Harris Bank.

“See if the drive-thru is still there,” my wife says. That’s how fast things change. “Honey, would you stop by the hardware store if, you know, hardware stores still exist.”

This drive-thru exists. I lower my window.

There is a small sealed tube, about a foot long. We put the check in the tube, close the tube. I push a button. The tube whooshes away.

Before it returned I was already shaking my head, laughing in pity for us old folks. Forced to grasp the fine points of mining faux money one moment, puffing real money in the form of a handwritten check off via 19th century pneumatic tube systems the next. It’s like setting down your iPhone X to send messages by semaphore flag.

The tubes will be gone soon, along with the drive-thru and the physical banks. Since this is the first column of 2018, we might as well review a few changes we’ll be coping with, if not this year then very soon.

Cash goes away. Funny that the Chicago City Council might punish businesses that refuse to take cash. They might also consider forcing Sears to publish a thick catalog that sells wooden clothespins.

Sears might not last the year, followed in the 2020s by most department stores. Neckties will vanish, then sport coats. School textbooks. Paper newspapers. Fraternities.

Mostly, that is. The beauty and curse is nothing completely goes away. Checking Amazon, I see you can buy wooden clothespins ($7.16 for a 50 pack). A pair of semaphore flags is $23.95.

So the past is still here, lingering at the back door, muttering. While the future has already arrived, hammering at the front. Wooden clothespins here, there a PCI-E 1X to 16X Powered Riser Adapter Card w/ 60cm USB 3.0 Extension Cable 4pin MOLEX to SATA Power Cable – GPU Graphic Card Crypto Currency Mining ETH.

I won’t be buying that. Then again, I seem to remember insisting I’d never do Twitter, and now I tweet like a sparrow.

Remember: these are mere details. The important point is we’re here, now, alive, unwrapping this shiny New Year we’ve been given, a 2018 model, apparently. Spreading the countless components across the living room floor, puzzling over the hard-to-fathom instructions, trying to figure out where everything goes, how to make this complicated new thing work.