It’s simple right? It’s all about the money. That is true but I believe it goes much deeper than that as the allure of cryptocurrencies is effectively one that centers around human ambition. Please allow me to go on a tangent before fully addressing this statement. I promise you that this tangent is relevant and more importantly worth your time. After all, isn’t that what all good stories (not implying this is one of them) are about: fulfilling the promise of a resolution after building up the anticipation.
Stories of love and connection aside, the other stories which we can all relate to are stories of money (although some would argue the latter leads to the former). Cryptocurrencies managed to capture the world’s attention not due to the underlying technology itself but rather the narratives that surround it. These narratives in turn allowed ample space for human emotion which are deeply intertwined with riches and power. As such, much of the interest surrounding cryptocurrencies was always dependent on going beyond the technicalities in order to relate to core truths of human emotion:
- Our sense of wonder which allows us to imagine the future possibilities where we are so rich that there was actually something which our money couldn’t buy
- Our love of mysteries which keeps us guessing about the cryptic origins of this new technology and as to how this story will end
- Our need for adventure which continues to pull us into this narrative in the hopes of not missing out on this once in a lifetime journey
- Our attraction to justice which wants to believe in an elegant democratic solution which will topple established institutions which have done us wrong in the past
Is it no wonder that many have latched on to this ongoing narrative of mystery and justice, where with enough courage or stupidity (depending on how you look at it), they could easily participate in this adventure that will define the future of society (be it a more democratic society or the biggest bubble in history). It also doesn’t hurt that there is a possibility of owning a Lambo somewhere along the way. Andrew Stanton (writer of Finding Nemo and WALL-E) captures this perfectly in his quote below:
“The greatest story commandment, … ‘Make me care’ — please, emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically, just make me care”
Nobody (except geeks) cares about your blockchain
If you went out to the streets and mention Bitcoin, everyone will have a personal opinion or a story of a friend relating to it although most would likely be unable to define what a blockchain is. Much like how many sports fans have never even played the sport which they are so passionate about, it is not about the game itself that draws them to it but rather the history and context behind each match. As of this writing: England will have to wait another 4 years for a chance to chant ‘It’s Coming Home’ and end their 52 year FIFA Championship drought; LeBron James is joining the Lakers after having had to carry all the hopes of Cleveland fans and being continuously disappointed by his teammates; and Connor McGregor is following in the footsteps of Mike Tyson with copious amounts of trash-talking and of course ‘Making-it-rain’ pictures.
This is the same reason why the painting of the American flag below managed to fetch $110m at an auction while you can easily pick up a flag for a few dollars elsewhere.
However, unlike an art piece, what makes sports that much more griping is that its stories are always current and easily understood therefore making it more relatable. Sports have the ability to overcome all boundaries. You don’t need a common language to understand it. At its core, it is about pitting the desires and perseverance of one individual or team against another. It is a clash of passions where at the end of the day, a winner will emerge. It is why the knockout rounds of FIFA are so much more exciting than the qualifying rounds.
In a similar vein, cryptocurrencies are able to overcome any cultural boundaries as all it requires is an understanding of money which any modern society would already have a good amount of knowledge on. The story surrounding cryptocurrencies has become a story about the clash between technology vs middlemen, anarchists vs governments, people vs establishments. With its intrinsic value being so far abstracted from the physical world, most have settled on it’s monetary valuation to determine a winner in this battle. A meteoric rise in Bitcoin’s price will mean the technologists, anarchists and democracy have won and vice versa. As always, the truth is always somewhere in the middle but this delineation is what makes cryptocurrencies so divisive as I argue here.
“Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty” — William Archer
A good story is inevitable but not predictable hence the volatility of cryptocurrencies makes this story even more exciting. The prices of cryptocurrencies is the constant change in this story which keeps it interesting.
Given the steep learning curve required to even remotely understand blockchain technologies, the confusion around the technology compels us to deduce and deduct as to who is in the right and whether we were right in our deductions. Additionally, the mystery behind Bitcoin’s creation and its linkages to the dark-web (I highly recommend this read about Ross Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road) makes for an even more intriguing story. These anarchist beginnings coupled with the institutional self-interest that resulted in many financial crises in the past pushes us to the edge of our seats. In effect, it is an underdog story about honest conflicts that create doubt about what the truth might be hence we demand a conclusion to this story.
Everybody (including geeks) cares about what your blockchain can do for them
What will really push us off our seats (metaphorically and also literally once we ditch that office chair), is when that blockchain starts impacting our daily lives. As it stands now, this will most likely be via monetary gains/losses through investing. What makes this get rich story different from most is how accessible this technology is due to its democratic design.
Unlike the traditional asset markets where there is a need for a minimum capital amount and clearance from your bank or broker to participate in, all cryptocurrencies require for participation is a smart device and an internet connection. We are already seeing developing countries leapfrogging computer technology to conduct banking on their smartphones hence accessibility is a key factor in this.
Consequently, aside from regulatory measures, the main barrier to entering the network (especially now when so many apps make it easy to trade cryptocurrencies) is a mental one. The fact that regulation of the industry is still very much a work in progress muddies this decision even further as the user must be comfortable in navigating certain grey areas as defined by society. This ease of access and lack of regulation is what allows the rapid inflows and outflows of money into the industry which contributes to the many rags to riches and riches to slightly better rags stories from the people all around us.
Effectively, this narrative meets many of the criteria for an engaging story:
- Timeliness: The subject matter (money or more specifically, a medium of exchange) will always be relevant. This is even more so in the consumer-oriented world we are in currently
- Proximity: The technology is easily accessible and is slowly starting to appear all around us. All it takes to participate in this story is to download an app.
- Impact: Contrary to what some people will say about money, I would still rather be crying in a Ferrari than on a bike. Money will definitely have a significant impact in providing the freedom to pursue our own passions.
- Significance: The technology has the potential to affect large swaths of people as can be inferred from the number of people you know who have invested in it and this is at a time when the industry is still young.
- Novelty: The technology itself is relatively new and hardly understood therefore requiring an investment on the readers part to complete this mystery for themselves
- Prominence: Many of the social influencers we know have been affected by the rise of this technology. They might be believers or skeptics but this dichotomy is what intrigues us, how can people who are so respected in their respective fields have such differing opinions.
And this at last brings us back full circle to the question raised in the title of this article. Cryptocurrencies have such an allure for mainstream media as it is a story that openly invites anyone daring enough to join in its narrative. It is an open call for people to participate in a more radical, yet unproven form of governance made possible due to the underlying technology of the blockchain. For those that heed this call, it becomes a case of confirming that they were right in their personal believes whether this came from careful deliberation of the technology or just pure gambling based on recommendations from those around them. For those that don’t, it is also a case of justifying their believe that they were right to avoid it and refrain their friends from investing in it for fear of the possibility of getting burned by it.
Whichever side you fall on, the ubiquity and ease of the technology ensures one thing, there will be little to blame if your prediction turns out wrong. If Bitcoin goes up manifold and you weren’t able to gain from it, it was because you weren’t able to capitalize upon this vision of the future given the ample opportunities to invest in it now. Conversely, if Bitcoin were to fold and you came out empty-handed, it was because your prediction of the future was out of touch with reality and you ignored many of the experts today. Either that or you were just throwing money at it based on dreams of a Lambo and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), don’t be this guy.
Ultimately, mainstream media takes to cryptocurrencies like bees to honey because with each report on the price movement of cryptocurrencies, it becomes an indicator as to whether our judgement call was right. We are waiting, we are anticipating the conclusion to this ever evolving story if only to reassure ourselves that we made the right decision. Much like how blockchain technologies were envisioned, it places the responsibility of our decisions back in our own hands and leaves it up to us to decide whether the story of our lives is one that is intertwined with the story of cryptocurrencies.
Thanks for reading this far! Let me know what are your thoughts as I would love to know what you think :)