Look at the general public’s interest bitcoin, according to Google Trends:
It’s gone down quite a bit, hasn’t it? Seems bitcoin is a dead topic. Only Nigeria, South Africa, and Ghana give it a metric higher than 80. When’s the last time you had a conversation about bitcoin? Heard a news story about bitcoin? Saw a cryptocurrency ad?
Why doesn’t anybody talk about bitcoin anymore?
I have some perspective on this question. I talk to people about bitcoin sometimes when discussing my book, Consensusland, about a country that runs on cryptocurrency. I also lived through the 2017 bitcoin mania, mostly as a quiet spectator who sold a portion of his gains in early 2018. I spend 95 percent of my time with people who have no connection to the cryptocurrency industry and have mostly no knowledge of blockchain. I’m not deeply embedded in the cryptosphere but I’m engaged and knowledgeable. As a result, I have a rare and somewhat unbiased viewpoint.
Different people have different reasons they don’t talk about bitcoin, and I’ll split them into four groups: normal people, boomers, techies, and believers. Here are each group’s reasons.
- Normal people. These people constitute the 92 to 98 percent of people who have never owned bitcoin. I’ve never asked anybody “why don’t you talk about bitcoin anymore” because it’s an odd question to ask and most normal people never talked about bitcoin in the first place. They don’t care about it, don’t understand it, and don’t have a reason to talk about it. Bitcoin was an amusing novelty. They all know somebody who made money from bitcoin…and that’s it. “The price went down 80 percent? Oh. That’s crazy. What does bitcoin do again?”
- Boomers. These people bought during the 2017 boom and haven’t checked their wallets since then. They bought because they had no clue what was going on but heard you could make some money from buying bitcoin and knew that I had talked about it a few times. They’re waiting for the price to go back up so they can sell it. You and I know that once the price goes back up, they will not sell it, they will continue to hold onto it, and probably buy more, simply because they think the price will keep going up and “everybody on Twitter” says so. They don’t talk about it because their experience with bitcoin was terrible and they would rather forget about it, unless of course bitcoin goes parabolic again, in which case they will get super-hyped and it will be all they talk about for a month and text me every two hours asking me what I think about X coin or giving me recommendations about what to buy, just like they did at the end of 2017.
- Techies. These people understand distributed ledger technology or computer science in general. Most seem skeptical about bitcoin. The technology that goes into bitcoin is not novel or interesting, it’s actually quite old and well-established. They mostly get the practical value but do not believe bitcoin, or any technology built on a distributed ledger, can scale to the point that it could be used for anything other than niche uses (some of which are quite esoteric). Some think it’s shady because it’s connected to the Silk Road, others think it’s a complicated way to do something quite easy (send money to people), and others think it’s a fad. They don’t talk about it because it’s not interesting and it seems scammy.
- Believers. These people are like you and me. We don’t talk about bitcoin because nobody really wants to hear about it. It’s hard to make conversation with people when they don’t care what you have to say. We do, however, have ourselves to talk to. We also have great people working to make cryptocurrency useful, accessible, and relevant.
One observation, as an aside. We live in a world mostly dominated by older people. Our leaders, business owners, decision-makers, and power brokers come from a generation that relied on paper for almost everything. Most still use checkbooks and some use cash exclusively. Some shop online, but mostly not. A few still print out their emails. Many complain about their smartphones, though all use one. These people run our mainstream media outlets, most of our largest businesses, and almost every segment of our government. When I talk to them about bitcoin, it makes no sense. Why would they talk about something they don’t understand, won’t use, and can’t make money off of?
Until that changes, they will not talk about bitcoin.
Fortunately, they don’t have to. We can. The more we talk about bitcoin, the more likely it is that some little nugget of knowledge seeps into their world. A tiny realization. A financial opportunity. A novel concept. Something.
That tiny change in perspective gets people interested. My stepfather-in-law doesn’t care what a consensus algorithm is, but you tell him he can take electronic payments without losing 4% in payment processing fees, he gets it, because he knows how electronic payments work, he runs a retail business. My uncle doesn’t know what a blockchain is, but you tell him he can buy and sell electrical power on-demand from other people using cryptocurrency without having to go through distributors, he gets it, because he worked in the energy sector and knows how energy markets work and he knows it’s screwed up and horribly inefficient and this type of secondary market is a perfect solution (if you can make it work). My friend’s business partner doesn’t understand proof-of-work but you tell him Lightning Network could destroy his payment processing business, he perks up.
Slowly, little by little, those conversations add up. Over time, minds change. That change cannot come from another 2017-esque hype-fest. That cannot come from Twitter, CNBC, YouTube, or other media outlets. Those outlets don’t build conversations, they simply give everybody a platform to speak — but if everybody’s talking about bitcoin, who’s actually listening?