How Can I Use Monero in Day-to-Day Situations?
This is another post along the lines of the steelman series I started towards the end of last year. I want to explore a critical question about the use of Monero—perhaps all crypto—which is: What is the practical, legal use of Monero?
I describe what steelman arguments are in detail here.
In short, when you steelman an argument, you try to present the strongest version of the argument of the opposite side. This is similar to playing devil's advocate, but done genuinely, in order to get closer to the truth.
I look for steelmanning in public discussions and debates, and it's disparagingly rare. To steelman an opponent's point of view shows confidence in the strength of your own arguments. And, if steelmanning the other side's view makes you change your mind, then perhaps you were attached to your original views for the wrong reasons to begin with.
Discussion about Monero on Techlore
I participate in the relatively new Techlore Discussions forum. If you have an interest in privacy and security issues, I highly recommend joining! It is group of individuals with a serious interest in privacy, which often leads to more focused discussions than what you might see on, say, Reddit.
One thread caught my eye, specifically when user @agreeably_icy (with permission!) asked this:
I’d be interested in a discussion about using Monero in day-to-day situations. Because apart from Monero being basically illegal in Australia, I honestly don’t see how I’d use it in any way that would actually work for me? And that’s my biggest problem with Monero (actually, cryptocurrencies in general), and something I just don’t see discussed at all, so I’d be really keen on seeing someone talk about this.
Can I buy groceries/pay my rent with Monero, or is it just buying a specific range of digital goods?
The discussion that ensues covers all aspects of the question (and more), but I want to focus on "I honestly don't see see how I'd use it."
Having recently written about my own discovery of Monero and my attempts to mine Monero at home, I'd like to finish by looking at the problem raised by @agreeably_icy:
how can I use Monero in the real world?
I will show my hand here: I am more interested in the idea of Monero than in its practical use. I am not so deeply invested in Monero that I feel I need to be evangelical about it. I agree with Icy's criticism that, strangely, the lack of practical, real-world application of Monero is hardly discussed. And with 'practical', we mean: paying the rent & bills, buying groceries, paying tuition, buying goods, and paying for a night out.
Perhaps I am totally naive and Monero's only real use is on black markets on the dark web. Maybe the legal use of Monero is noticeably under-represented because it is moot.
But, I do believe there is a strong case of the idea of Monero, from a privacy and societal perspective.
I've been participating in the Monero communities for a short while, but in my own response to Icy's question in the discussion thread, I summarised what interests me about Monero:
- it’s a project that still in its infancy in terms of legal practical use, but has the potential to work like digital cash
- it’s important that developers and other people are working on privacy projects like Monero as a counter to all the digital tools and infrastructures that are designed to strip our individual agency and privacy
- we do not need new tools that allow companies and governments to acquire more data about us (our day-to-day movements, transactions, interests, comments, etc.)
- we do need technologies that preserve privacy, and a digital form of cash like Monero could be one of those tools
- it doesn’t have to be Monero per se
In short, I see the current philosophy of Monero as a project that is being developed for practical use in the future. Monero is being battle-tested on the dark web—I think it is now the top currency there—, and while that may not be great for mainstream adoption and credibility, it is excellent for building a robust tool.
I am interested in the Monero project because I can see that we are transitioning to a digital environment on all fronts, and we will need the equivalent of cash there, unless we want all the minutiae of our lives documented.
So this brings me to the gist of Icy's question:
If Monero is supposed to function as the digital equivalent of coins and bills, then why are so few places accepting it?
I can give a few examples where I see practical legal use today, but, in essence, I agree with Icy. It is frustratingly difficult to spend your Monero. Add to that to the changing tide against privacy coins, as they are being de-listed on exchanges and regulations are drafted against their use, one might wonder whether buying Monero is a good idea at all.
One recurring positive experience of using Monero as digital cash is when I use XMR to pay for Mullvad VPN. That goes as follows:
- I visit mullvad.net
- I generate an account number and copy it to my password manager
- I add time to the account with an XMR transaction by scanning a QR code with the Cake Wallet app on my phone
- the desktop app, which is has my account number, adds the time I've paid for
It's quick and completely private, like buying an umbrella from a tourist stand in Paris using cash.
I've written before that you have to experience this to understand how unusual it is to receive a practical service in exchange for money without any form of identification.
My second positive pitch for spending Monero is the 'Merchants' section in the weekly The Monero Standard to see if its possible to buy products in your area with XMR that way. These transactions for physical wares will never be as 'clean' as the Mullvad experience, as you'll need to give an address (and most of us regular citizen XMR holders probably can't be bothered setting up a PO Box for extra privacy).
Lastly, I'd recommend regularly listening to Monero Talk and following MoneroTopia presentations, as examples of direct transactions are discussed there.
When I buy a gift card for a large online shop using XMR, I am technically using Monero to buy something, but I need someone to explain to me how that's any different from spending a gift card I've paid for with fiat money. The extra Monero step seems superfluous.
I can see a logical use for these gift cards for vendors who earn Monero, but that doesn't help me, the general user.
Why should I exchange fiat for Monero, in order to buy a fiat gift card to spend on a mainstream shopping platform?
I'm with @agreeably_icy on this point: The current reality of not being able to spend your Monero legally as a regular consumer (not as a vendor) is not discussed enough.
This sits in stark contrast to the central argument for Monero, which is that, unlike Bitcoin, its untraceable fungibility enables it to be used as true digital cash.
Why do so few people address this huge gap between Monero's philosophy and practice? I don't see it listed in this FAQ, just to give one example.
I recently wanted to get off of the Kraken exchange, as they kept asking for more personal identifying information about me (you have a copy of my passport: what more could you possibly want??), so I exchanged the part of my savings I have been keeping in XMR back to fiat and exported the record of all my transfers on Kraken.
I plan to find other ways to acquire Monero, but this has no urgency for me, as I currently only use Monero to pay for Mullvad.
Still, when I look at the big picture, I am worried about increased surveillance of individuals as we move more aspects of our lives onto digital platforms, and in that sense, I support and believe in Monero, and hope that in perhaps five or ten years, I will be able to spend XMR easily and legally, using the same approach Mullvad provides today.
Thanks to Techlore Discussion member @agreeably_icy for letting me use his question for this article!
Techlore Discussion forum
Discussion that sparked this article
More steelman articles
The Monero Standard - Merchants
Note: you can support recanman for writing these weekly Monero updates via the receive wallet address listed at the bottom of every article they publish.
Local Monero Myths Debunked
Douglas Tuman interview on Techlore
Gift cards on Cake Pay
Techlore's video on using Cake Pay
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