By now you’ve probably heard of Bitcoin. You may have heard that it’s made some people rich. You may also have heard that it’s a new form of digital money, and that it’s the future of commerce; or that it’s a criminal enterprise, and that it’s bad for the planet.
The messaging is confused and confusing — which is partly because no one person controls it. Just like Bitcoin, which belongs to… well, all of us.
In this short essay I want to help the Bitcoin-curious understand a few facts about the world’s top cryptocurrency. It’s not technical, and it’s not hard to follow. It’s not comprehensive, either, which is why this article is peppered with links so you can find out more.
I’m not advocating for Bitcoin as an investment, although I do think it’s worth owning a little. I’m just trying to set the record straight on a few misconceptions, and to help newcomers to the Bitcoin community get up to speed quickly with a few key concepts. Hopefully if you’re reading this with an open mind, you’ll realize quickly that there’s much more to Bitcoin that its price.
There are babies in the bathwater
Let’s start by getting a few things out of the way: cryptocurrency is a dangerous and often ugly place. There are countless scams, hacks and exploits. It appeals to degenerate gamblers and criminals and fools. Motivated reasoning and sunk cost fallacy prop up bad ideas long after they should have collapsed. Con artists thrive in the open and ordinary people often lose their money. The crypto space is 95% bullshit by volume, so it’s understandable that some people conclude it must be entirely bullshit.
But mostly bullshit is not the same thing as entirely bullshit. Dismissing crypto because it is full of scams is like dismissing Twitter because the average Tweet is terrible. The problem is not that Twitter (or crypto) have nothing to offer. The problem is that it takes time and energy to learn how to dig through the bullshit and find the genuinely interesting ideas.
Rejecting cryptocurrency entirely is much easier and seems to offer a lot of moral clarity — but it leaves behind a nagging question: if cryptocurrency is so obviously awful, why doesn’t it just die?