The likely answer for now is no. Yet some believe that the bitcoin, a digital currency that has gained wider attention in recent weeks following a period of volatile trading, could become a commonly accepted form of currency.
In Pittsburgh, the bitcoin faithful are few, but they are fervent in their support. This month, about 15 local bitcoin enthusiasts met at a restaurant in Station Square to talk about the currency's future.
Nicholas Mross, 30, a freelance filmmaker and videographer who lives in Sewickley Heights, was there to film the meeting for his documentary "The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin."
"I'm very much a believer in bitcoin," he said. "I believe that it's going to stick around."
So what, exactly, is bitcoin?
"Bitcoin doesn't really have a good elevator pitch," said Daniel Mross, 35, of Observatory Hill, a co-owner of a software company and the person who got his brother, Nicholas, interested in making the film.
For the general public, the best short explanation he gives is this: "It allows you to replace the need for banks. It allows you to be your own bank."
Bitcoin, according to its website, is a digital, encrypted currency that allows instant peer-to-peer transactions all over the world without relying on a central bank or a government. A person or persons using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto developed the concept of bitcoin in 2009, the website says.
A person gets started using bitcoin by installing a virtual "wallet," similar to an app, on a phone. To get bitcoins in the wallet, a person can purchase them through websites such as https://coinbase.com using U.S. dollars. (The websites usually charge a small fee for the purchase.) Then, bitcoins can be traded electronically with other individuals or businesses that have wallets for bitcoins.
The value of a bitcoin, since it fluctuates with the markets, has been volatile. Bitcoin's own website warns that the price can vary dramatically.
Bitcoin, four years after its conception, remains a currency system that invites a great deal of skepticism.
"It is hard to imagine it will take off," said Bryan Routledge, an associate professor of finance at the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business.
Money, traditionally, is a unit of account, a medium of exchange and a storer of value, he said, and he doesn't believe bitcoin fully satisfies those definitions of currency.
In Pittsburgh, the early bitcoin adopters tend to be people with a bit of a libertarian streak who are fascinated with technology, Nicholas Mross said. Colin Dean, 28, a software engineer who lives in Wilkinsburg, has invested about $500 in bitcoins.
"I'm very bullish on it," Mr. Dean said of bitcoin. "I think it has a distinct future as, at a minimum, a simple means of international and long-distance value exchange."
Andy Tepper, president of eGenesis, an online gaming company based in Ross, is even more bullish.
"It's inevitable that bitcoin will become the world's currency," Mr. Tepper said.
He listed his reasons for believing in bitcoins. They are counterfeit-proof, he said. There are about 11 million bitcoins now, with a maximum limit of 21 million, a protection against inflation. It's a currency governed by math, not governments. The transaction fees are either very low or nonexistent. It's open-source software, and it can be anonymous to send and to receive bitcoins, if certain steps are taken. It's also easy to send large amounts of value across borders quickly. And because there is no middleman, it reduces fees, such as those businesses have to pay to credit card companies.
For now, though, bitcoin has what Mr. Dean described as a chicken vs. the egg problem: "I have this thing I want to use as a currency, but nobody wants to accept it because they can't use it themselves," he said.
Bitcoin is "growing organically," Mr. Dean said.
"When will I be able to expect my employer to pay me in bitcoins and then I can go buy a beer in bitcoin?" Mr. Dean said.
"I think we're still a couple of years off."
Kaitlynn Riely: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1707. First Published April 20, 2013 4:00 AM