Cryptocurrency is not a tough topic to explain. It’s also, relatively speaking, boring. It’s not about robots. Or zombies. Or AI stealing all our jobs and telling us how to think and feel. So why has it become such a sexy topic for new media? A buzzword that rolls off our tongue during watercool conversations? An issue that’s casually brought up around the dinner table? To me, that’s much more interesting than speculating about potential financial gains or the smart and malleable coding behind blockchain technology. No, I want to know why people care so much about this. And here are a few of my observations.
Participants vs. Spectators
We, as human beings, love to celebrate our technological achievements. Sometimes, I feel, more than anything else. Putting a man on the moon. The creation of luxury, electric sports cars. Online platforms for people to connect. And now, digital currency.
But, what makes digital currency seemingly even more popular by the masses than certainly the first two are the presence of a couple pivotal factors: (1) the increasing fragmentation, and consequent rise, of new media, and (2) average joes like you and me can actively participate in its activities. We’re not on the sidelines, passively watching it on the 11 o’ clock news or reading about it the next day. We were excited about sending a man in space, but it’s not like what we were able to go there ourselves. But with cryptocurrency, it’s different. In a matter of five minutes, we can set up an account, type in our credit card numbers and call ourselves an ‘investor’ in one or multiple cryptocurrencies. Our level of knowledge about these technological feats probably remain the same, but the collective feeling like we’re taking part in its growth — and will be missing out if we don’t — elevates cryptocurrency to its unleveled popularity.
An Urban Legend? My Favourite!
Bitcoin is popularly accredited as the first cryptocurrency. This is more or less true, but there were bits of digital currency that sprouted up years before Bitcoin’s White Paper emerged in August 2008. Yes, Bitcoin’s White Paper, sort of, spoke about a new-ish concept of a decentralized currency that functions on a peer-to-peer network without an intermediary. But that’s not why the concept stuck. Instead, it was the myth around the origins of Bitcoin that got the masses circling around this foreign idea, and it was the technical mumble jumble that got them to shell out their cash.
Who is Satoshi Nakamato? No one knows. And for the sake of Bitcoin, it has to be kept that way. It doesn’t matter if Nick Szabo or Wei Dai knows who the real creator(s) is, or even whether Hal Finney wrote the name(s) down on a piece of paper prior to his passing. For the sake of marketing, the identity of Satoshi Nakamato will remain a secret because the myth surrounding its origins is a fundamental element to its allure. Let’s be honest: There is nothing that’ll make Bitcoin less attractive than discovering it was just some average white dude with radical libertarian ideals who studied computer engineering and worked some boring job at a software company that brought his lunch to work every day. This is why when Craig Wright came out and admitted he was the founder, there were no shortage of eye rolls. Nobody likes the narrative that the founder of Bitcoin — this dark, secretive, fueler of Silk Road antics — was just a boring, ordinary dude. That story sucks. And it’s not marketable.
Our Kryptonite is a Solid ‘Get Rich Quick’ Scheme
The parallels of cryptocurrency’s popularity to California’s Gold Rush is striking.
In 1848, people came from not only across America but all over the world to mine gold. But only recently did historians discover that the people who got rich off the Gold Rush were the merchants providing the supplies, lodging, food and other staples to the visitors/miners. Most miners gained small returns, with some even losing money on their venture to the Golden State.
I predict that this will be the same for cryptocurrency. Entrepreneurs, small businesses and even major financial institutions (which is, honestly, amazing given the political views that cryptocurrency is predicated on) are salivating over the financial opportunities that will leverage the popularity of blockchain technology, smart contracts, the Internet of Things (IoT), and other catchy-sounding programs and technologies. Most of us have no clue what those things really entail, and they (probably) don’t either, but we sure as hell are going to have stuff sold to us from those positioning themselves as experts. Online courses are being made, books are being written, and articles on top-tier media websites are getting skyrocketing page views every time ‘Ethereum’ ‘Bitcoin’ or ‘cryptocurrency’ are mentioned in the title.
There’s a whole new economy around digital currency and blockchain technology. And none of it involves directly investing in the actual things.
Who cares about the future of these systems and technologies? The market is profiting on how we feel about it instead.
And so, in my humble, unsubstantiated opinion, cryptocurrency is simultaneously groundbreaking, while remaining old and familiar. The Gold Rush was legendary. And it served economies from all over the world well. But what are we doing with gold now? Are YOU investing in gold? Do you talk about gold during casual dinner conversation? Do you argue with a beloved family member over a glass of wine about whether we should return to the Gold Standard, and that Nixon made a perilous mistake in August 1971? Whatever new gains are being chased now, I’m confident that they will soon be normalized and forgotten. A few will strike it rich, simply because they struck first. A few more will earn substantial profits on the culture surrounding its existence. And the environmental degradation we’re contributing by ‘mining’ the expanding systems will probably implode our entire planet. Same old, same old.
But again, I could be entirely wrong about this and it might just become a permanent ‘next big thing.’ I bought some Ethereum just in case.
This originally appeared on jennifertchan.net