Writer & producer - gaming, tech, web culture, fintech, crypto, and nerd lore.
Ever since I started representing blockchain startups 3 years ago, I have had many opportunities to explain what crypto is and why it’s not completely a scam — mainly to friends, family, and neighbors. I cannot overstate the degree to which “normies” think all crypto is a scam.
It’s a legitimate extension of traditional finance filling a role that has only grown during the COVID-19 crisis, and during the economic crisis that is certain to follow.
For those of you who are wishing you’d stop hearing so much about Bitcoin and kind of wish it would go away —Bitcoin has had a good 2020. I don’t know where it’s future fortunes lie but I think it’s safe to say it will have some value for the next ten years, whether you think that will be $100,000 or $199, so it’s better to understand than not understand.
There are a few common misconceptions you have to dispel to understand the what and why of Bitcoin…
“Bitcoin is a scam”
Bitcoin is a brilliant innovation — it gave us a platform for a truly independent and decentralized form of currency. It is still the most successful and brilliant practical use case of blockchain technology to date, 11 years after its launch. Bitcoin made some brilliant moves incentivizing honest participation (including miners) long-term, and basically getting people to invest in the concept that this untethered asset has value.
Bitcoin has been used by scammers, it has been the center of various scams, but Bitcoin is not responsible for criminals that use it any more than the US Dollar is responsible for criminals that use it as a tool for crime.
Of course, Bitcoin not being a scam says nothing about the veracity of the more than 2,000 altcoins that can be purchased on exchanges all over the world.
Bitcoin showed us that communities could be built on positive participation and collective belief and that those communities can assign value to a currency, which means that currency is independent of state. As a U.S. citizen, I can see the appeal of independent of state very much in 2020.
2. “Bitcoin isn’t worth anything”
If you think that Bitcoin has a value based on nothing, that just isn’t true. It’s just harder to define.
The fact that Bitcoin is staked to no tangible assets has actually been a strength — it works as a deflationary asset. When nothing has value, Bitcoin still has value. What Bitcoin is really staked with is the effort and investment that created the collective belief that Bitcoin has value.
National currencies like the U.S. dollar are a sort of investment, deriving value because the holder believes in the strength of the U.S. economy.
But like any successful product, Bitcoin filled a need that pre-dated its launch.
There is a real desire among the wealthy and the highly-independent investor who wants assets independent of state and all the uncertainty that global politics bring. Of course, Bitcoin is the shadow of the traditional financial system — it’s not truly independent, as it is subject (inversely) to traditional market movements (particularly the S&P 500, whom some are suggesting dictates BTC movements — when the S&P is down, Bitcoin goes up.)
Bitcoin hasn’t been around long enough to be a reliable store of wealth and anyone with a financial background knows that — but institutional investors are moving the market more than ever. The suit-wearing investors of traditional markets are getting on board with crypto (and their own blockchain in the case of JPMorgan’s IIN network which has over 300 banks enabling Bitcoin transactions) but not because they know it is a reliable store of wealth — it’s because they still think it’s safer because USD, oil & gas, and even gold have been outperformed by Bitcoin.
3. “You Can’t Buy Anything with Bitcoin”
This just isn’t true anymore. Bitpay keeps a curated directory of places you can spend crypto, including:
Buy Gift cards from Amazon, Delta, DoorDash, PapaJohn’s, Red Lobster, Uber, Wayfair, and many others. Entertainment & Gaming from Microsoft, Twitch, and DishTV, and others. Donations to The United Way, American Cancer Society, and the American Red Cross, among others.Electronics from NewEgg and hundreds of other vendors for jewelry, food, web services, and more.
4. “Bitcoin just isn’t for me.”
Judging by the principles of Bitcoin, as expressed on their white paper, Bitcoin is for everyone. That’s the whole idea.
If you fit any of these categories, it’s for you:
If you live in a country with an unstable fiat currency.If you don’t have access to reliable traditional banking — 2 billion people all over the world are unbanked or underbanked. If you don’t have access to reliable online payments. Bitcoin won’t necessarily be usable for all of your expenses, but if you have access to a smartphone you can set up decentralized banking, store your wealth, and make payments using crypto even if local currencies and banking are unreliable.If you deeply distrust the nation you live in and the stability of its currency. Bitcoin is the hedge position du jour for investors who see trouble on the horizon from the U.S.’ and the world’s “No-Good, Very Bad Year”. People don’t consider a global economic collapse to be inevitable, but they want to hedge against the possibility. It’s smart not to keep all your assets in one basket, after all, and not put all your faith in one system.
Don’t Worry, the Suits have come to Save Us
Large-volume and institutional investors represent a larger portion of bitcoin transactions than ever before and that trend is only increasing. That means good things for the mainstreaming of cryptocurrency, but it also means less Bitcoin is going to be held by the bleary-eyed blockchain developer or entrepreneur and more of that wealth will be held by people in sharp business attire — some independently wealthy, most working for traditional financial institutions.
Many exchanges like Kraken and Coinbase have OTC desks to handle high-volume transactions and service these large and institutional investors (usually starting at $50,000 purchases). OTC desks give big buyers the ability to access liquidity pools without actually having to find the “BTC whales” who are sitting on hoards of Bitcoin gold, some of whom might want to sell.
NDAX.io, a Canada-based trading platform (which I’ve consulted with through past contracts), has recently revamped and rebranded its OTC desk to include improved service — including an AE to service your account and 24x7 hotline to ask questions about your transactions. In other words, the level of service people coming from the traditional banking world might expect.
Don’t Panic (Crypto is Coming for you Anyway)
Douglass Adam’s advice from “The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy”, published in 1979, is still great advice. "Don't Panic".
Don’t worry, crypto is likely to be part of your life whether you choose it or not. Certainly, blockchain will power the back end of sites you use all the time, like Amazon which already has its own project. But if Facebook’s Libra project doesn’t have billions of consumers taking out credit loans and spending in crypto to earn savings in the short term — then another monolithic tech company will come along and fill the void.
People want more options. Projects like Libra is ready to give us another option. I’m not going to opine whether it should be allowed to succeed — but let’s not kid ourselves that stopping Libra will stop the tide.
Crypto will become mainstream, particularly if people can use it without ever being aware of crypto’s involvement. You will know crypto has really become mainstream when they stop talking about it as a separate animal from other electronic payments, and blockchain will be accepted when it has become as exciting in headlines as any other coding platform.
The hype will die and the true useful life of blockchain and crypto will begin.
Justin Roberti has a background in media and fine arts and has been writing and doing PR/marketing for over 20 years for Fortune 500 and startups in media, gaming, consumer tech, mobile tech, fintech, and blockchain. He writes about tech, media, and web culture. He is the PR Director for blockchain agency Zage.io and sometimes-consultant for NDAX.io.
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