Time is crypto. Actually, it's way more valuable

A story about mistaken identity, money, and wasting time

The subject line catches my eye: there are only two hard things in computer science. I’m not a computer scientist, so I think everything is hard, but I open the email anyway.

Hey Michael,

Cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-one errors. ;)

All jokes aside, how’s your week going?? Crazy that we’re halfway through 2021 already! Reaching out because you have the skills matchup for this awesome role with one of our partners, [REDACTED].

The [REDACTED] team is internationally distributed, focused, autonomous, and self-driven. They lean into real-time feedback and own their own results. [REDACTED] as a whole is “relentless in their pursuit to create impactful technology for the future.” They’re here to build something that lasts, and are looking for people with that same focus and ability. They’re owning the DeFi/Blockchain Space and are ready to bring you into the world of all things Crypto.

Yes, we’re DeFi. No, you don’t have to be!

Some benefits included: stock options, token grants for exploration, investment, and/or profit, $200 monthly stipend for health and wellness, flexible vacation policy (work with your manager to take time off when you need it!), health coverage, and matching 401(k)!

I feel like you, Michael, have more than the capabilities and should have the opportunity to learn more. What's your availability over the next few days?

Talent Partner

Right away, I know Bonnie’s1 email isn’t meant for me. It’s meant for my digital doppelgänger, an engineer named—wait for it—Michael Estrin. The other Michael Estrin is a computer whiz. I know this because job offers meant for him regularly come my way.

Usually, I delete those emails. But sometimes I reply to tell the recruiters they have the wrong Michael Estrin. Once, a recruiter for a startup working to “disrupt” breakfast cereal by making it a subscription service said my response was “witty” and “charming.” She promised to keep me on file for when the startup exits “stealth mode” and needs to “ramp up” marketing. Sadly, the cereal entrepreneurs never called, which is a shame because someone ought to disrupt the fat cats running Big Cereal.

“I’m going to take the meeting this time,” I tell Christina. “It could be a funny story.”

Christina looks horrified. As a leader at a large company, my wife takes hiring very seriously. Finding good people is difficult, time-consuming work.

“Please don’t waste this poor recruiter’s time,” Christina says.

After nearly two years sharing an office with Christina and watching her spend hours hiring, I should have sympathy for Bonnie. But whatever sympathy I’ve accumulated during the pandemic is outweighed by a peculiar fantasy I’ve harbored since 1997.

You know that scene in Good Will Hunting where Will’s friend, Chuckie, impersonates Will at a job interview, then solicits a bribe from the interview panel? I love that scene, maybe a little too much!

Ignoring Christina’s plea, I channel my inner Ben Affleck (sans back tattoo) and reply to Bonnie. I suggest a call on Monday, but she’s out for the holiday, so Bonnie asks if we can “connect” Wednesday morning. I agree. She sends a calendar invite. That gives me plenty of time to brainstorm gags for my “interview.” Here are a few possibilities.

  • I pretend to be a Luddite computer engineer who has trouble working Zoom. After ranting about the simpler times of writing code in BASIC on my TRS-80, I accidentally turn myself into a cat.

  • I pretend to be a crypto billionaire and turn the tables on Bonnie by offering to buy her employer with my Dogecoin holdings.

  • I use a Joe Biden avatar for the job interview, wow Bonnie with my crypto knowledge by strategically dropping jargon like “DiFi,” then politely pass on the job, citing a four-year commitment to my current employer.

One by one, I nix each idea. The Luddite bit feels too obvious. Also, Legal is concerned I may be infringing on the Zoom Cat Lawyer’s IP. I like the Dogecoin bit, but what if Bonnie calls my bluff? I don’t have that much bullshit currency sitting around. The Joe Biden bit seems solid, but Situation Normal doesn’t have the budget for a Joe Biden deepfake.

I return to the drawing board. I write ideas on index cards, Post-It notes, and Starbucks napkins. Nothing clicks. I crumple up the index cards, Post-It notes, and Starbucks napkins, then pass the time by shooting hoops with my material.

I pace around my office. I clean the house and do the laundry. At least chores are productive forms of procrastination. To clear my head (and kill some more time), I run errands to the bank, the market, and the hardware store.

Later, I return to my desk. For a few hours, I mess around on the internet, which seems purpose-built for procrastination. I read about crypto. I don’t understand how someone can create their own currency, but I’m intoxicated by the idea of making myself rich.

I should create my own cryptocurrency. I could call it MEcoin! All I need is a computer whiz. Maybe I should email the other Michael Estrin. Wouldn’t he want to partake in the bounty that is MEcoin? Of course he would. But with two Michael Estrin’s involved, maybe a more appropriate name is WEcoin.

Eventually, I give up on my crypto fantasy. Time to settle on a bit for the interview, which is just around the corner. But no matter what I come up with nothing feels right. It’s frustrating, and I end up bickering with my writing partner, Mortimer, accusing him of not pulling his weight. Mortimer points out that he’s a dog. I tell him to contribute, or leave. He eats my MEcoin notes.

Suddenly, I feel lost. I’ve spent a lot of time working on a bit. Too much time! I need a gag that will make a good Situation Normal story. But even though it’s a joke, I don’t want to waste Bonnie’s time. And there’s the rub. Those two goals are in conflict.

I should honor the red flag here, but I decide to take one more crack at it. Writing my way out of this jam will be difficult, but I’ve got as much writing experience as the other Michael Estrin has with computers. I can do this, I tell myself. But first, I really should procrastinate a little more by checking Twitter. Turns out, the first tweet I see is from a writer I admire, and without knowing it, he’s given me a gift.

Lyle’s tweet is a version of that old aphorism about how time is money. If I had a Bitcoin for every time I heard that one, I’d have all the time in the world. But that’s just a new(ish) take on a very old joke. While anyone can create their own currency, time is finite for everyone. That’s why Lyle’s point hits home. The realization that weighs on Lyle is the same one weighing on me, probably because we’re around the same age and both of us are in a position to understand that exchanging money for time is a better deal than trading money for things.

Which brings me back to Bonnie, who trades her time for a paycheck at [REDACTED], where she works to recruit people like the other Michael Estrin to trade their time so [REDACTED] can build a new currency so that strangers, linked together through blockchain, can execute whatever money-time-thing trades they choose. It’s absurd, really. But that’s life in the big city, as my father used to say. And it isn’t the absurdity that bothers me. Actually, I quite like the absurdity. What bothers me about this scenario is me. Because so what if Bonnie goofed by writing to the wrong Michael Estrin? That doesn’t give me license to rob Bonnie of her time.

And while I’m feeling introspective, why single out Bonnie when recruiters across tech regularly make this mistake? I was “witty” and “charming” to the cereal entrepreneurs, but a tad cruel to the crypto crowd. Is it because I’m a crypto skeptic? Maybe. Although my skepticism is about some of the crypto boosters and their utopian claims, not the technology, or the working stiffs like Bonnie whose career paths intersect with the hurly-burly of Web 3.0’s early days. Regardless, my skepticism doesn’t give me the right to judge Bonnie’s choice to trade her time for crypto. Hell, I’ve made some terrible trades in my time. I’ve exchanged my writing for a platform, Likes, and other intangibles that didn’t pay the rent, or give me more time.

And speaking of ME, there’s also the other Michael Estrin to consider. Isn’t this technically his time? If I ever find his email address, I really should loop him in on everything.

“I’m going to cancel the meeting,” I tell Christina.

“Thank you. May I ask why?”

“I don’t want to waste anyone’s time.”

My decision makes Christina happy. In my book, that’s time well saved. I decline the calendar invite and write Bonnie to explain.

Hi Bonnie,

After researching [REDACTED], it seems like you have the wrong Michael Estrin. I’m not Michael Estrin, the engineer. I’m Michael Estrin, the writer. But don’t feel bad about the mistake. This kind of thing happens often. Hopefully, you and the [REDACTED] team will find the right Michael Estrin, use his talents to make trillions, then have a good time spending that hard-earned crypto.

Bonnie doesn’t write back, and that’s OK. Hopefully, she has better things to do with her time. I know I do.

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