In the land of wild cryptocurrencies • Studio magazine

On Broadway and 83rd Street, in Manhattan, every two weeks from six in the evening a canary yellow panel lights up with a large QR code under the words “WELCOME TO THE BITCOIN HAPPY HOUR”. Some Upper West Side frequenters stop to scan the QR code and approach the glass door that separates the world of bitcoiners from “no-coiners” (in crypto slang, more or less the equivalent of “muggles”). Whoever observes from the inside can notice the initial curiosity of the faces of those on the other side, before they move away, gradually regrouping in skepticism and sarcasm. More rarely, someone else with a less recommendable look comes in thinking that here they will make some easy and not entirely clean money, and after a quick reconnaissance he leaves with the same sarcastic air, evidently annoyed that he found himself instead in the middle of a group of enthusiasts who express themselves in coded language and exchange inspired glances.

The open space that hosts the Bitcoin happy hour is the heir to the “Bitcoin Center” founded on Wall Street in 2013, which perhaps remembers those who saw the documentary Banking on Bitcoin. It occupies the space of a former pharmacy and has the appearance of a bar that has just been vacated and is under construction, which suits its new identity as a “Blockchain Center”. It opened last September and initially contained only about twenty black and orange gaming chairs scattered around white tables and a few magnetic whiteboards hanging on the stripped gray walls. Within a month, nearly all the walls turned Bitcoin orange, low blue sofas and two or three small Persian rugs appeared on the rough concrete floor, and someone lined a raised alcove with a DJ controller in fake foliage. another small bright blue screen with the name of a cryptocurrency. Next to two switched off Bitcoin ATMs, on the right-hand wall painted in white, an enormous face of Shiba Inu (the dog symbol of a Bitcoin clone called Dogecoin and other meme coins that have generated several millionaires) is projected every now and then. On a round metal table, around which the Bitcoin happy hour goers gather, there is a pile of canonical books for the crypto-investor, including The Bitcoin Standard by Saifedean Ammous o The Internet of Money by Andreas Antonopulos.

At my first Bitcoin happy hour, after a heartening scan of the situation (everyone had a beer in their hand and the look that said “I’m here for the first time too and I have no idea what’s going on”, some swung on their chairs. gaming on wheels) I opened my beer and asked my neighbor in the chair if he had read those books. He had never read them, he had only come to the event to get suggestions for “exit strategies” for his investments. Not all “crypto people” are idealistic, of course, and many are closer to the type of the “degen trader” – the “degenerate” investor who enters even decidedly dubious projects hoping they will go “to the moon” – than to that , at the other end of the spectrum, the “Bitcoin maximalist”: the fundamentalist who believes that Bitcoin is the only important cryptocurrency and calls all the other “shitcoins”, and thinks, like many others more moderate than him actually think, that Bitcoin’s value is merely a mirror of the socially and economically revolutionary reach of its technology.

A Bitcoin maximalist who came to first meetings with a friend in a suit and tie employed at JP Morgan, the bank that has always fueled the mud machine against the crypto world, was disappointed not to have found himself at a gathering of his fellows. “I came here believing I was finding new friends in New York who shared my values, but everyone is talking about shitcoins,” he said, showing sincere despair. I shared the Twitter profile of a well-known self-styled “toxic” Italian maximalist, trying to make him feel somehow less alone. The next time he thanked me, but then the unlikely overly purist couple never showed up again.

Mira, a Finnish under 40 who makes a regular presence at the Bitcoin happy hour, is a non-toxic maximalist with a confident smile and an icy and passionate gaze. Wearing a black and yellow T-shirt that reads “Ask me about Bitcoin”, he is able to lecture on any chapter of a bitcoiner’s faith, and has an adamant counter-argument for every criticism that the mainstream narrative has leveled against Bitcoin. He knows how to drop a religious silence when he explains to “newbies” how software not controlled by any central authority can upset the hierarchical system of traditional finance, emancipating the value of money and individual property from the control of governments or banks. Most of the Bitcoin happy hour attendees already know these things, but still all eyes widen with pleasure as they hear once again the familiar subversive air that has been etched into the conception of Bitcoin from the very beginning. Satoshi Nakamoto, pseudonym of the mysterious and disappeared creator of Bitcoin, entered in the data of the block containing the first verified transaction (“genesis block”) the title of an article on the first page of the Times of that day, January 3, 2009: “Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”. It was the 2008 crisis, and the message was clear: Bitcoin was born as an alternative to the sick banking system. The protocol was designed to generate a deflationary and rare asset. Every four years the production of Bitcoin halves (“halving”) and will stop once it reaches 21 million Bitcoins (in 2140, according to the calculations). Nobody controls Bitcoin. For this “Satoshi Nakamoto” has left the scene and no bitcoiner is interested in discovering his true identity. Bitcoin is kept alive and owned by all those who participate in the network by operating the transactions that are recorded on the blockchain, a public ledger. Transactions are validated by a decentralized consensus system called “proof of work”, in which network members (computers) spend computing power in a race to solve a complex mathematical problem: the first to arrive at the solution adds the transaction to the blockchain and receives in exchange a fee in Bitcoin (which is halved with each halving). This process, which is called mining, ensures the security and decentralization of Bitcoin. In the beginning, mining could be done at home, by any nerd with a normal computer. With the growth of the network, small specialized devices called ASICs have been developed and today mining farms are huge warehouses with hundreds of thousands of ASICs working 24 hours a day with large energy consumption, distributed all over the world.

As the network grew, Bitcoin began to be conceived of as “digital gold” rather than a bargaining chip. At a certain point, in the head of a real bitcoiner, a conversion takes place from the “fiat bias” to the “Bitcoin bias”: the fiat currency, the euro or the dollar, turns out to be the queen of shitcoins, and the reference value becomes Bitcoin. It is important for every bitcoiner to know how Bitcoin technology works because it is precisely in what Ray Dalio has defined “one hell of an invention”, the genius of the invention, that its underlying resides. This is why bitcoiners love to talk and talk about the technical aspects that are so closely connected to economic value when they get together. At the Bitcoin happy hour, those most dedicated to the cause are happy to spread the word and answer the most profane questions, and then a strange, pleasant mix of maximalism and openness reigns (even if, during one of these self-satisfied conversations, an elderly gentleman very respectable raised his hand and asked affably when Bitcoin will go from “proof of work” to “proof of stake” – another type of consensus method used by blockchains other than Bitcoin – and for a few seconds, before anyone managed to compose himself and answer “never”, the general dismay was cut with a knife).

Mira is convinced that she will soon retire thanks to her investment in Bitcoin and is also convinced that her wealth will be perfectly consistent with an idea of ​​the common good. Bitcoin maximalists combine passion and ideology with money and it is out of passion that they do not appreciate the other technologies that have developed from Bitcoin over the years and that have paved the way for Web 3.0: other digital currencies, other blockchains that support decentralized finance , Nft and decentralized metaverses. The “maxis” (as they are called friendly) are however only a slice of the crypto population, which instead for the most part imagines the totality of a web that does not exercise control over user data and free from central authorities. As Mira evangelized a circle of people sitting to my left on methods of consent and privacy, one evening, a young Algerian who claimed to work for Facebook was holding court in my little group, emphatically mimicking the shape and use of glasses to live in the metaverse. that Mark Zuckerberg is developing and will be ready in three to five years. I heard someone behind me, and it wasn’t a Bitcoin maximalist, commenting “what is he doing here?”, While my neighbor, Star, a programmer enthusiastic about blockchain and technologies beyond blockchain to decentralize the world, gracefully expounded and charisma more specific doubts about the Zuckerbergian vision. For Web 3.0, the giants of the centralized web such as Facebook (Meta) represent not only an outdated world, but above all, ethically, evil.

Star had just returned from a DevCamp dedicated to perfecting a framework for developing decentralized peer-to-peer apps. “There were all kinds of people”, he told us, “women, men, twenty, seventy, and a crazy positive energy, because everyone was there with the idea of ​​making the world a better place”. According to the creators of that framework, a technology that perfectly perfects decentralization would allow us to put into practice ideas such as guaranteeing transparency in the supply chain, managing a financial system independent of banks, sharing self-produced energy through a network of users and producers on an equal footing. As I was cycling home with the image of this Woodstock of computer scientists still in front of my eyes, a boy with Middle Eastern features and a slightly alienated and somewhat insolent gaze crossed my street, whom I recognized as another frequent visitor of the Blockchain Center. I nailed it, greeted him and he told me, without changing expression, that he had only come by to ask for a forecast on the price of Bitcoin. In truth, there is a bit of degen in every enthusiastic crypto: someone does not deny, every now and then, that the market is in a bubble; everyone recognizes the hype. Richard, the organizer of the Bitcoin happy hour, who has completely devoted himself to the crypto world for years, one evening showed us the NFTs he had bought to speculate, confessing that he had done 10x with a jpeg of a solid yellow rectangle. We discussed it at a no-coiners dinner with Star (who in the meantime, after an exchange of emails on decentralized apps, became my friend): “There is hype”, we admitted in the face of the perplexities of others, ” but it is still so early », Star specified,« we are still in the dial modem phase! ». And it is the first time that anyone has managed to believe that the wild wild west of the gold rush is also the promised land of the realization of a universal good.

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