So, What the Hell Is Bitcoin Anyway? (A Tale of Beards, Castles, and Self-Doubt)
If you’re a Bitcoin enthusiast like I am, or if you make a living by writing about it, also like me, then this is probably something you’ve been asked on more than a few occasions.
It’s a question I was asked by a good friend of mine at a beard and mustache club meeting, of all places (go ahead and Google it, I’ll wait. It’s a real thing, I promise)
Now, my friend Davie, besides having one of the best beards you’re ever likely to see is also a pretty smart guy.(that’s him in the photo below, and you can follow him on Instagram if you’re into the whole beard thing. He’s Scottish and works in an 800-year-old castle.)
As happens at most social meetings, we’re all stood around drinking beer and shooting the shit, when the topic of work comes up. I mention Bitcoin at some point, and Davie just shoots me a look as though I’d suddenly started speaking Swahili.
“Bitcoin? What’s that?”
At this point, I’d assumed, wrongly in this case, that even though most people don’t actually know what bitcoin is, they’ve probably heard of it.
It’s been all over the news of late, and its incredible rise at the tail end of last year made some headlines, didn’t it?
Judging by Davie’s reaction, it seems not.
I’d always assumed that it was old people who didn’t know about Bitcoin. The type who still used paper money, who were skeptical of direct debits and who used the mail system for more than getting deliveries from Amazon.
The reaction I got from Davie wasn’t the only time this has happened. It seems that Bitcoin isn’t as big a deal as those of us who are inside the bubble like to think.
My working days are full of phrases like “mainstream adoption” and “industry disruption,” which all sounds very exciting and makes you gaze misty-eyed at a future where Bitcoin and the underlying technology (I won’t get into blockchain in this post, promise) has stormed in and evened the financial playing field, changing how we view money forever.
Could it be that my day in and day out involvement in this industry has clouded my view of the bigger picture?
If we take ourselves out of the bubble and look at it impartially, it’s easy to see why mainstream adoption maybe isn’t as close as we’d like to think.
For the most part, the crypto industry consists of preaching to the converted.
It’s tech-savvy types telling each other how the technology they’re building is going to change the world.
The only problem is, it’s going to need genuine widespread adoption to come anywhere close to working. And I don’t mean “widespread adoption” in the way that industry bods say it.
I mean proper, real widespread adoption.
The system that cryptocurrency hopes to infiltrate and disrupt on a large scale is possibly the most entrenched, recognized and time-tested there is.
Everyone recognizes money. They know what it is, they know what it’s for, and they know what it can do for them.
Can the same be said about Bitcoin or cryptocurrency in general?
Until we come close to answering that question with anything other than a resounding “no,” then we’re not anywhere close to widespread adoption.
Throwing around terms like “store of value” makes sense to me and others like me, but it makes absolutely zero sense to the vast majority.
They don’t know, and they don’t care. They want someone to answer the question of “Bitcoin? What’s that?” In a way that they can understand, and that lets them know why it’s better than the cash they have in their pocket or the contactless debit card in their wallet.
I’ve read countless blog posts and social media status updates where the writer will proudly announce that they bought a cup of coffee using Bitcoin.
That’s great, but until doing so becomes demonstrably more convenient than doing so in the tried and tested way, people are going to continue putting their hands in their pockets for their loose change or using their debit card instead.
It’s up to those champions of the cryptocurrency concept to convince the masses that they have the keys to a better way.
As of yet the day when that happens seems as far away as its ever been.