The Simple Guide to Crypto Culture for Nocoinersby@abhijoysarkar
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The Simple Guide to Crypto Culture for Nocoiners

by Abhijoy SarkarApril 11th, 2023
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If laser eyes, "NGMI", "@inversebrah", million $ jpegs, CT memes, "Bitcoin not crypto" etc. make no sense, this guide is for you. If your friends and family keep asking you why crypto people are so weird, this guide is for them.

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GM, GN, WAGMI, HODL, DYOR, probably nothing, ser – do these terms sound familiar? They are part of an ever-growing thesaurus of crypto-speak. A lexicon that the skeptic’s guide to crypto says is reflective of a cult. And not in a good way. Like Jonestown.

If you think about it though, all cultures and subcultures develop their own lingo. They create their own customs and rituals. Social behaviors. In-groups and out-groups. Sub-communities. Idiosyncrasies. And so on.

These subcultures are born out of political, technological, art, or other contemporary movements. Influences which also shape their vocabulary.

For example, a combination of politics, economics, cryptography, computer science, and current affairs influenced Bitcoin’s creation. As a result, its culture and diction are also influenced by these.

Subcultures can be niche like Goth or Steampunk. Or more popular cultural phenomena like Hip Hop. The Furry fandom falls somewhere between. And so does cryptocurrencies, or crypto – not niche anymore, not a mass movement yet. But getting there.

People more competent than me have written at length trying to explain the who, what, why, and how of this movement. The most recently popular of them being a 40,000-word treatise by finance columnist Matt Levine.

In spite of all the ink spent on crypto, its culture remains one of the lesser-explored aspects in popular media. With this guide, I hope to take a stab at it in fewer words than Levine.

“Crypto” Explained

For semantic clarity, “crypto” was originally used to refer to cryptography only. Cryptocurrencies use applications of cryptography. With their growing popularity, “crypto” is also now common parlance for cryptocurrency-related stuff.

Like Bitcoin, Ethereum, public blockchains, NFTs, and more. I will be referring to the newer connotation when using “crypto” here.

Now coming back to the original question, do the terms mentioned above sound familiar? If you are into crypto, it is a resounding yes. If you dislike crypto, these phrases may invoke negative sentiments.

But if you are unaware or indifferent to them, you may be a nocoiner. Or a precoiner, to be more specific.

Nocoiner and Precoiner Explained

What is a nocoiner? Someone who doesn’t own any cryptocurrency or related assets like NFTs. As with many things in crypto, “nocoiner” has turned out to be contentious. Even among crypto advocates (12).

Urban Dictionary currently lists five explanations. All have polarized votes. Two of those are disparaging of people who like cryptocurrencies. The other three down-talk critics. Wiktionary has two definitions of which the first one says:

This description makes no value judgments

Elsewhere, there is resentment added towards crypto in the description of the term. From VICE to CoinDesk to CoinMarketCap to Wiktionary’s second definition. What of those who are unconcerned one way or the other?

Entrepreneur and investor Balaji Srinivasan make this distinction. He suggests “precoiner” i.e. a nocoiner who has no grudges against crypto.

As Matt Levine’s “Crypto Story” points out, “disciples” (coiners) and “skeptics” (anti-coiners) are at loggerheads. “Normies” (precoiners) are undecided. Hence, this guide may find a more receptive audience among precoiners. Nonetheless, it is addressed to all nocoiners.

All who wish to peek into the layered and esoteric world of crypto culture.

Part I – Bitcoin v/s Ethereum (and Other Crypto) Culture

To understand the overall culture, let’s list some of the shared principles among Bitcoin/Ethereum/crypto/public blockchain/Web3 proponents to begin with:

· trustlessness, decentralization, disintermediation

· self-sovereignty, ownership rights, be-your-own-bank

· individual privacy, data protection, strong cryptography

· censorship-resistance, freedom to transact, immutability

· triple entry accounting, public accountability of systems, FOSS

Many of these values can be attributed to libertarian thought and anti-establishment sentiment born out of socio-political developments. The earliest supporters of some of these values were cypherpunks – a privacy-focused subculture.

Naturally, crypto found acceptance from whistleblowers. Like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Frances Haugen. Thereby starting its life as a niche internet counterculture.

Over time, some chains/projects/platforms in crypto have made concessions for one value in exchange for other benefits/value systems hoping to gain more mass appeal. Trade-offs such as compromising on decentralization for achieving speed. Or shelving open source to avoid exploits. Or even ditching immutability to curry favors with governments.

Nevertheless, some crypto entities have held on to their cypherpunk roots zealously.

Bitcoin’s Origins and Culture

Bitcoin was born out of the 2008 housing bubble collapse. Its pseudonymous creator Satoshi Nakamoto’s goal was to make a system that no longer needs a trusted intermediary to transact. A truly peer-to-peer financial paradigm. Publicly auditable. Run on computers by independent parties distributed around the world. Cannot be corrupted by colluding actors. In the words of Satoshi:

Posted on 11th February, 2009

(Image Source)

This is why Bitcoin culture focuses so much on the separation of money from state. The ethos of Fix The Money, Fix The World resonates strongly. The memetic themes often revolve around sound money, borderless finance, and economic theory.

Throwing shade at censorship, central banking, fiat money, and government-issued diktat is usual. This mission-driven doggedness is one of the reasons for Bitcoin’s resilience through “crypto winters”. In spite of its obituaries being written over and over again.

Satoshi Nakamoto beefing with Alexander Hamilton

(Image Source)

Many years later, the vibes are still cypherpunk AF. There’s vigorous advocacy for free speech, privacy, anti-surveillance, and cybersecurity. Self-custody of assets is sacrosanct. Keeping crypto coins on centralized/custodial platforms is a no-no.

Many prominent Bitcoiners are generally skeptical of the overall (non-Bitcoin) crypto space. But staying true to their roots, they protest the EU’s plan to ban privacy coins. And come to the defense of Tornado Cash when it is sanctioned by the US Treasury and one of its developers is arrested.

OPSEC (operations security) is second nature. And it comes from years of experience. Sometimes learning the hard way like a Solana dev did last year in Bogotá. As security expert Jameson Lopp can also confirm.

While glitzy events like the Miami Bitcoin Conference or Bitcoin Amsterdam attract people from across the cryptocurrency spectrum and beyond, the true essence of Bitcoin culture shows in smaller developer-focused events:

Gigi is a Bitcoin writer and developer

(Image Source)

Products, research, activism, and other developmental work on Bitcoin center around custodyscalabilityanti-censorshipuptimeprivacyaccessibilitycircular economiesnation-state adoptionpower gridsrenewable energyhuman rightsoffline payments, etc.

Popular crypto developments like DeFi (Decentralised Finance), NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), Yield FarmsICOs (Initial Coin Offerings), DApps (Decentralised Applications), DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations), tokens, etc. are nearly non-existent on Bitcoin.

Even things like Dex’es (Decentralised Exchanges) are few and far between. People who invest in these “altcoin” projects or associate with them may face criticism from Bitcoin purists.

The idea that public blockchains can be viable means to build anything beyond money rails is not well received in these circles (see Oracle Problem in Part V). So there is disinterest in “Web3” and “metaverse”.

There are attempts at ideations and implementations of tokens, DApps, NFTs, and more on or around Bitcoin too (see Colored CoinsCounterpartyInscriptions / OrdinalsBitcoin StampsOpenOrdexRollkit, Mastercoin/ OmniEthSideRaretoshiBitDNS / NamecoinVeriBlock, etc.), but they have never really taken off.

This indifference, and occasional disdain (12345678910)*, makes Bitcoin culture feel puritanical and over-serious. Yet, at the same time, it has paved the way for what is considered as crypto culture today. In times of crisis, the single-minded pursuit of Bitcoin gains greater appreciation (12345) from altcoiners/multicoiners too.

*Despite the disdain, Bitcoiners have overwhelmingly rejected calls for censorship and the throttling of undesirables (see Bitcoin-not-crypto in Part VII).

Crypto investor Eric Wall suggests these aesthetics as a representation of the difference b/w the two cultures

(Image Source)

PS. Eric Wall is a vocal critic of “maximalism” in Bitcoin spaces. In the dorky v/s dogmatic image composite above, the left one is from Ethereum’s developer conference in Bogotá. The right one is from Bitcoin’s community-focused conference in Amsterdam. To be fair, the Bitcoin event had other non-ominous-looking settings too (see here and here).

The Story of Ethereum

One of the original proposers of Colored Coins was Vitalik Buterin. A co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine. He wanted to build apps and blockchain-based assets on top of Bitcoin. A decentralized world computer using Bitcoin.

That did not generate enough interest from other Bitcoin devs. So he ventured out to create a separate blockchain called Ethereum. A permissionless platform to deploy software applications and digital assets.

Apart from the proceeds of a Thiel Fellowship, an initial sale of pre-mined coins was arranged to fund early development. This led to differences with the Bitcoin community since Satoshi’s approach was more bootstrapped.

Another point of contention was Bitcoin had no premine, and mining was egalitarian. No added advantage was afforded to Satoshi or other early miners. To play devil’s advocate though, it could be argued that Satoshi’s Bitcoin mailing list was a high privilege that few had access to.

Notwithstanding, the first cracks began to appear between the two communities.

From cryptography research to scaling to data protection to improving decentralization, Ethereum developers and researchers have their hands full. Ethereum is more “degen” (degenerate) though in the sense that it houses all those endeavors mentioned before that don’t catch on in Bitcoin.

Apart from finance, it is fertile grounds for experimenting with non-money implementations in artgovernancegrantsarbitrationcommunity managementfundraisingrevenue sharingtreasury administrationco-workingfan clubsinsuranceVR/metaversepublishinggamingroyaltiesidentitiesticketing, etc.

Even cloud nations are not exempt. As a result, Ethereum’s culture, memes, and lexicon capture these various pursuits and their hits and misses. The themes go beyond money and state.

Gitcoin founder Kevin Owocki's visualization of Web3 evolution

(Image Source)

The ballooning thesaurus of crypto-speak reflects the pace of development on Ethereum. As of Jan’23, ~1M different tokens have been issued on its blockchain. Of these, ~760k are fungible tokens (ERC20 tokens), ~205k are NFT collections (ERC721 tokens), and ~35k are other kinds of tokens (ERC1155 tokens).

And we have not even included the 1:1 NFTs such as single pieces of work created by artists. On top of this, more than 44M smart contracts have been deployed (as of Aug’22).

This high level of enterprise is a driver of the “Web3” movement. A loosely held term for an internet running on public blockchain and crypto token rails to maintain data provenance.

On the flip side, where there’s money to be made, there is sketchy activity too. Apart from projects that fail, there are also scams perpetrated by bad actors. From vaporware to snake oil to rug pulls to hacks to malicious contracts.

Many of these get flagged quickly (see Bane of Scams in Crypto in Part VIII). Their claims get called out (123456789101112). Or clowned on (1234567). But many slip through. For every Uniswap, Aave, Compound, and MakerDAO’s of the world, there are many grifts that happen.

A large part of criticism directed towards crypto arises from these misadventures. One of the reasons why Bitcoin purists insist on distancing from “crypto”.

Notwithstanding “degen” behavior on Ethereum, cypherpunk tendencies are alive and well. There are tools to subvert authority. NFTs to free Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht. And DAOs seeking the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

So Bitcoin now has a partner in Ethereum when it comes to driving crypto culture.

Other public blockchains like Solana, Dogecoin, Polygon, Avalanche, Cosmos, Binance, Monero, Zcash, Litecoin, Polkadot, Stacks, Tron, Near, Cardano, etc. have a comparatively smaller footprint on cultural phenomena for now.

Because of its dominant influence, many Ethereum developments (NFTs, Dex’es, DAOs, stablecoins, etc.) become part of the crypto zeitgeist before other chains adopt them. This is why a lot of the lexicon and memetic themes carry over from Ethereum as well.

Up Next Part II: Key People/Opinion Makers/Cultural Influencers

NOTE: Also published here.

Disclaimer: None of the information mentioned above should be construed as financial advice.