Bitcoin Is Ridiculous. Blockchain Is Dangerous, by Paul Ford

Paul Ford looks at Bitcoin and blockchain technology through the lenses of prior tech manias. From Ford at bloomberg.com:

The true believers won’t stop until they’ve remade the world. Some of it will be thrilling. Some of it will keep us up at night.

On the days when Bitcoin crashes, a holiday atmosphere takes over in my corners of the internet. People tweet screengrabs of Reddit fights. It’s always good fun to watch strangers grieve as their digital nonsense nickels melt into slag.

It’s not that I want Bitcoin holders to suffer, really. As a technologist and entrepreneur, I’m sympathetic to and admiring of risk takers. But as a writer, I enjoy the sheer human-condition-revealing sport. I’m happy to watch other people play video games without playing myself. I’ll watch poker, but I’ve never bought a deck of cards—and when I watch football, I keep the official NFL rulebook open on my phone. For whatever reason, I tend to like the rules more than the game. Bitcoin is at some level just a set of rules, defined by software, that has become one of the world’s weirdest games. And people who invest in an unmanageable abstraction, then panic when it underperforms, are very entertaining.

Everyone’s so excited and having such a good time, the sort of time you have right before they invade Paris. Watching the world of initial coin offerings over the past few years has been like watching popcorn pop. Everything rattled around in the hot air for what seemed like forever and then pop! Mastercoin! Ethereum! Bancor! Tezos! Then other kernels started popping, and now we’re eating popcorn for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Blockchain startups visit our software agency and promise to pay in dollars, then add, “There are, however, other ways to get paid.” Everyone is smart and well-funded. And, yes, some blockchain startups (but never, ever the ones that visit us) seem comical—so many graphs! Some are even deliberately so, like Useless Ethereum Token, whose logo is a raised middle finger. “There will be no expectation of gains,” says the UET website. Naturally, buyers have taken on about $300,000 worth.

 The people tossed around by the cryptocurrency tempest—their only sin is belief. (Well, and greed.) But here I can only smile warmly and sigh. I know what it’s like to believe.
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