How Will Cryptocurrency Cross the Chasm?

Shingai Thornton

This piece was written for the Blockchains In The Mainstream E-Book.

“It might make sense just to get some [Bitcoin] in case it catches on. If enough people think the same way, that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.”- Satoshi Nakamoto (2009)

Cryptocurrency, like all other forms of money, is a largely psychological phenomenon. A shared illusion and product of our imaginations, not a naturally occurring substance. Even physical currencies are backed by faith and social consensus.

Early human communities had faith in a universal appreciation for materials like shells, stones, silver and gold. Today, commercial and central banks are the trusted issuers of currency. Cryptocurrencies are proving open-source software communities can manage global, decentralized digital currencies.

Stanford’s Computer Security Laboratory, MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative, Deloitte, and Price Waterhouse Cooper supported the 2016 Scaling Bitcoin conference, while Microsoft sponsored Ethereum’s Devcon 2. The U.S. Postal Office and Congressional Blockchain Caucus are both exploring blockchains.

In 2017 Ernst & Young Switzerland will accept Bitcoin for its services, and Swiss citizens can now purchase the digital currency from their national railway’s ticket machines. Corporate giants BHP Billiton, Siemens, and RWE are developing Ethereum-based supply chain monitoring solutions, microgrids, and electric vehicle charging stations.

Like with the early Internet, industry, academics, and enthusiasts are enthralled by visions of potential futures, obsessed with building a faster and more connected world. But mainstream consumers simply aren’t interested.

The chasm will eventually be crossed by simply maintaining the current rate of adoption. Organizations who tell stories that evoke strong feelings in non-enthusiasts, especially love and fear, will determine how this happens. Several projects are increasing global economic freedom for niche markets, those that scale will inspire love and optimism about the technology’s potential among broader audiences.

Abra allows anyone with a smartphone to become an ATM, “Uberizing” Western Union, bridging the gap between cryptocurrency and traditional money systems. Yours is a social network where content creators will get paid using micropayments. BitFinance, BitGive and BitPesa are addressing key issues on the African continent: high difficulty of international payments, charity transparency, and expensive remittances.

Grammy winner Imogen Heap’s Mycelia project aims to ensure fair compensation for artists and professionals in the music industry. Ralph Merkle’s DAO Democracy is an ambitious proposed experiment in governance, a more direct form of democracy designed for the Internet Era.

As the global economy continues failing to deliver significant growth or shared prosperity, fear will also drive adoption. Currency crises, cash shortages, and market crashes in the traditional economy, along with tempting profits in the cryptoeconomy will cause “fear of missing out,” as trusted individuals and institutions portray digital currencies in an increasingly positive light.

Scaling issues, regulatory uncertainty, and poor user interfaces will block mass adoption in the near-term, so organizations have plenty of time to develop effective storytelling strategies.

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