What do you do with all of those redundant pay phones now that everybody’s gone mobile? That’s what New York City has asked, setting up a contest for innovative ways of re-inventing their network of pay phones. With mobile devices part of our DNA now, you’d wonder when anybody last used a pay phone or a phone box for its intended use, apart from attempting to re-enact The Matrix after a couple of wine gums or getting Colin Farrell into trouble.

In the UK, rural phone boxes have been adopted by their local communities and transformed into book swap libraries, galleries and art installations and even a pub. These innovations are ideal in communities where the emphasis is on taking life slowly and enjoying the scenery. The issue is the reverse in a metropolis like NYC – if you are seen to be standing still you are viewed with suspicion in case you’re a terrorist, mugger or even worse, a tourist.

Smart SidewalksOne of the winners of the NYC Reinvent Payphone challenge came up with a natty little idea of having a charging station and information hub rising from the pavement. The Smart Sidewalks is fully solar powered and is described as “a 21st-century library without walls”. Another winning design carries advertising aimed at car drivers while underneath there’s internet accessibility for pedestrians.

NYC are making the upgrade next year, and whatever their decision, we can expect to see variations on those designs follow onto British streets of commerce shortly afterwards.

Meanwhile, a Canadian man has put his house up for sale in exchange for Bitcoins. That’s a real house, made of things you can touch, to be swapped for some virtual money, a thing you can’t touch.

The Bitcoin is a virtual trading currency that was invented to buy things over the internet. It currently trades at around $70 each, but you can expect that to devalue rapidly if the inventor turns out to be from Cyprus.

After my initial ‘my goodness, is there anything those whacky Canucks won’t do next’ disbelief had subsided, I then wondered, ‘why is this a big deal?’ Since the link to the gold standard was removed from the major currencies, they all became virtual concepts of value that are tradable based on confidence and future expectation, and, throw in a bit of internet technology, it is why the Foreign Exchange or Forex market has turned into a $4 trillion business.

If our beady-little-eyed friend across the water knows that he can then trade his Bitcoins for something he wants in the future, why not sell his house and put the virtual money in the virtual bank? And it’s annoyed his family too – what’s not to like?

It appears that the Bitcoin is being traded as any other commodity that has a resale value. There is a market for anything that can be bought and then sold on at a higher value, be it wine, carbon credits or toothpaste. It’s how shops make money. Those who bought Bitcoins in January for $15 a pop are virtually laughing all the way to the non-existent bank.

So there isn’t a problem with Bitcoins per se. There is a problem with the fact that it isn’t backed by a central and government-backed bank so if the currency folds there isn’t anyone to hold accountable and you may well lose all your money. But if you’re Cypriot right now, you may be tempted. I’d steer well clear.

Currencies like the dollar, euro and sterling rely on confidence, but for real confidence talk to those lovely people at SpecTronics UK for all your information technology needs.

Image credit: bbc.co.uk and facebook.com/bitcoins