Right from the start blockchain appealed to me, as it does still, mainly because it can be used to protect speech rights and press freedom, via the communal sharing of incorruptible archives. Every computer that runs public blockchain software, such as Ethereum or Bitcoin, produces an exact, verifiable, permanent, distributed public copy of every transaction that has ever occurred on that blockchain. You, or I, or anyone with a computer running Ethereum, or Bitcoin, or any of the thousands of other public blockchains now in existence, can acquire a personal copy of those records, and they will be verifiably accurate.
What that means is that everything that happens in Bitcoin happens in public, for all to see; it means that whatever records are posted to the Ethereum blockchain are in the immediate possession of thousands of global cyberwitnesses, and visible to the billions who can access those records on public-facing searchable websites like Etherscan. Even all these years later, I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of how this technology, which was designed to be a shared, cooperative boon, can be used for the public good.
That’s the immeasurably huge difference between public blockchains that anyone can join, like Ethereum or Bitcoin, and privately-held ones, like Libra, or the “digital currency” tokens envisioned by central banks, or the “blockchains” produced by IBM. Public distributed blockchains are inherently democratic and egalitarian, while the copycat systems run by secretive central authorities are, in reality, the opposite of blockchains. At best, these adulterated alternatives may have their uses; at their worst, private blockchains represent the threat of surveillance money.
But the real promise of blockchain—the guarantee of shared, accurate, immutable records—was and remains monumentally promising.
So I’d been interested in all this for a long time before I started writing about it. But I did buy some bitcoin early on, for fun, both as a gamble and so I could make sure I knew what I was talking about, back when the price was under $100. My initial investment rose stratospherically, as you might imagine, and eight years ago, when my daughter turned 21, I cashed in eight bitcoins for about $10,000—an enormous windfall—and blew the whole pile on a birthday weekend for her and a few other party animals, including my mom, in Las Vegas. (Back then, those who predicted that Bitcoin would rise to $50,000 were universally considered to be idiots or lunatics. It rose over $66,000 earlier this month, and is currently trading around $61,000, in a neverendingly wild and volatile ride.)
I still tease my daughter sometimes by pointing out that her 21st birthday cost nearly half a million USD in today’s money (and worth every satoshi.)
In time, though, partly because there were so many scams afoot, and so many people were getting ripped off, and so many gross jerks became involved in it, I lost my taste for crypto as an investment. Reading the Bitcoin forums in the early days could be an extremely depressing affair. The 2014 Mt. Gox disaster of February 2014 was only the biggest and most shocking in a long, long succession of catastrophes and scary news. And though there are better and more secure alternatives now for transacting and holding crypto, the possibility of shenanigans, theft, or (in my own case) being dumb enough to lose track of private keys, etc., is still nothing to sneeze at.
It was terrible to realize, bit by bit, that this fascinating, completely novel method (as I first thought) of making the world a fairer and safer place had very quickly become overrun by thieves and grifters of the grossest, most venal kind. It made me so sick at heart, indescribably so. I still feel ashamed to have made even a dollar the same way as charlatans like Peter Thiel or Elon Musk did.
But then I remember how corrupt regular money is, and honestly you have to laugh when you consider how the world’s creepiest cheatingest most crooked con men (bankers) used to go around yelling about how Bitcoin was a fraud and a scam, worse than tulip mania (lol! they oughtta know), and now these exact same clowns are making themselves very busy sleazing their way into the crypto markets.
Anyway, because crypto used to be even easier to steal than it is now, the pressure of holding it was a terrible thing and I do not have the stomach for it. I’m not rich, so the prospect of maybe suddenly losing tens of thousands of dollars gave me real, literal nausea. There was a moment I was moving like $30,000 worth of bitcoin off an old telephone and I honestly thought I was going to barf up like my appendix, and that was the moment that I thought no, this is bad for me in every way, and I should get out. There are other ways to make a buck that don’t cause me to feel so freaking gnarly and scared.
So I mostly did get out, leaving just a play-money amount in crypto, one that my late parents would approve of. I also paid my taxes and have always treated crypto like any other investment, not everyone involved in this thing is some kind of moronic seasteading libertarian freakshow.
Anyway, what I eventually realized is that Satoshi Nakamoto, brilliant as he/she/they are or were (I worry a lot that he/she/they may not have survived, only imagine the horrific pressure) invented a human thing that was, sadly, always going to be prey to human defects and become messed up almost immediately, like all human things.
But somehow there are always some worthwhile beautiful inventions and ideas surviving all the corruption, and coming into being, and those are human also, so eventually I got to where I could see the good parts of blockchain and crypto as being good again. And in time I was able to return to studying blockchain and working to help use it for securing speech rights and press freedom, and all kinds of other benefits, and that’s how I think of it now.
Ok so next time, let’s talk about credit cards.
Boom Times is a blog about gambling, luck, money, greed, investing, blockchain technology and cryptocurrency.