In August 2019, I published Stop Arguing With People. Show Them How Cryptocurrency is Useful. Earlier this year, I wrote Education Will Not Get People to Use Bitcoin—Here’s Why.
Most people don’t like to learn or argue, but they like useful things. Maybe that’s where cryptocurrency fails?
Or maybe it's this:
In late 2019 and early 2020, before I knew Harry Potter was thinking about buying bitcoin, I talked to a bunch of people from across the cryptosphere about the conversations they have with “normal” people about cryptocurrency.
In looking back at the series of articles that came from those conversations, I realized I forget to write about the most important part:
How do we engage people in positive ways?
After reviewing my notes, it’s clear that people generally don’t care about the ideology or technology behind cryptocurrency. They really just want to know how it can help them do the things they want to do.
As Peerplays founder Jonathan Baha’i told me:
“All that really matters is usefulness, and so I am often the lonely voice in the crowd bringing up matters relating to business analysis, focusing on what users need/want, and other such boring concepts in a space that [tends to focus on the technical or abstract]. I find it easier to have a conversation about making things that are useful for people in different verticals, let others share their views and understandings, and build on what they care about.”
Jodie, a friend in India who’s associated with a crypto exchange, told me people really want to keep their money away from government officials and banks they don’t trust. They’ll use whatever works best, and cryptocurrency checks off all the right boxes.
(I did not use Jodie’s real name.)
Matt Hougan, head of research at Bitwise, deals mostly with professional investors but sometimes talks to advocates for social justice. These advocates want to empower people who are poor or live in oppressed regimes. One way to do that? Give them private, accessible money that the government can’t seize.
Whether that money uses a distributed ledger or database, it doesn’t matter. If bitcoin works best, they’re on board.
When investor/philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones bought his bitcoin, he did so because he wanted to protect his wealth from inflation, not because he cared about decentralization, self-sovereign money, and trustless finance.
The government is destroying the value of his money. To hedge his bets, he put 2% of his wealth into bitcoin. All the other arguments came later (he admits this in his market outlook).
It’s all about solving problems.
For example, your stepfather doesn’t know what a consensus algorithm is, but when you tell him he can take electronic payments without losing 4% of his gross revenue from payment processing fees, he gets it. He runs a retail business, he knows how electronic payments work, and he wants to use anything that saves him money without costing him a lot of stress and effort.
Your uncle doesn’t care about blockchain, but when you tell him he can buy and sell electrical power without having to go through distributors, he gets it. He worked in the energy sector and he knows energy markets are complicated, inefficient, and totally screwed up. He realizes peer-to-peer trading and secondary markets will streamline power distribution.
Your friend doesn’t understand proof-of-work, but when you tell him Lightning Network could destroy his payment processing business, he perks up. He needs money and the pride that comes from running a successful business.
When your former college roommate complains about the rake from his online casino and the bots he’s competing against, you can remind him that cryptocurrency would make online gambling cheaper, fairer, and almost impossible to manipulate. Who wouldn’t want to save money and feel better about the platform they’re using?
You may think our current financial catastrophe will get people to “see the light” about bitcoin.
I doubt it.
Yes, some people have started looking at bitcoin as a way to avoid the traditional financial system or a way to protect themselves from devaluation or inflation of their governments’ currencies.
When things go bad, do you think they’ll trade their government’s money for bitcoin? They can’t pay their taxes or bills with bitcoin. Their banks and workers don’t accept bitcoin as payment. Most people don’t even know how to use it.
People tend to seek safety in times of uncertainty.
While hyperinflation may make their government’s currency seem dangerous, we don’t know if hyperinflation will happen. Even if it does, who’s to say they won’t pine for stablecoins, not bitcoin?
You might be surprised by how many people like government programs, feel OK about using government money, and don’t think their governments are evil.
For them, government programs don’t destroy prosperity, hard money isn’t better than fiat, and banks provide a valuable service. They may get pissed off at what the government does, but they don’t hate the government itself.
More importantly, they don’t usually think about it. They have more important things to worry about—their health and safety, their jobs and businesses, their families and friends.
“Bread and circus,” as the politicians say.
You’d think that they’d want to delve into the theoretical Cantillon effect of central bank activities, but alas, no. As much as they might not like what their governments are doing, they don’t blame the institution of government or the financial system. It’s the rich people, the poor people, the immigrants, the natives, the [fill in the blank] causing their problems, and government’s the only way to do something about that.
Banks give them money. They know the system’s stacked against them, but they like using credit cards, mortgages, and payment apps. For most people, that’s the whole point of banks.
Since they don’t have a problem with governments and banks, why talk to them about how bad governments and banks are?
Of course, if we get another 2017-esque FOMO LAMBO MOON mania, lots of people will put some cash into bitcoin.
Will they expect to get rich? Will they be fleeing financial tyranny or hyperinflation?
I expect they will mostly just want to feel like they’re part of the action. After all, “everybody’s doing it” and with the price going up, they may make a little money.
Before that happens, we can help people see cryptocurrency as a real, valid technology serving real, valid needs.
Just because they don’t care about the exact same things you care about, it doesn’t mean they won’t care about cryptocurrency. They can still appreciate and benefit from the amazing work we’re doing. And how knows? Maybe their perspectives will change.
At that point, you will find people interested in something more than “is it going to crash?” and “what’s it backed by?”
Of course, it will take time to spread honest perspectives around cryptocurrency. I can’t tell you how many people have the same memory: they put $20 into a Coinbase account and lost all their money.
(Even though they should now have about $10 in their accounts.)
We’ll need a lot of healthy conversations to overcome the stench of that debacle.
Until we get those healthy conversations, let bitcoin do its thing. As its price goes up, the people will come.
Now, you’ll have to excuse me, I need to get back to writing my next post about how bitcoin will make you rich. I need the clicks.
Mark Helfman is editor of Crypto is Easy and a top writer on Medium for bitcoin and investing topics. His book, Consensusland, explores the social, cultural, and business challenges of a fictional country that runs on cryptocurrency. In a past life, he worked for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.