Not so long ago, the movement to build financial alternatives based on the core principles of sovereignty, decentralization, and global access was pretty straightforward.
Most people interested in the core concept of money without government and finance without corporations gravitated to the cryptocurrency space.
People came with various reasons ranging from libertarian hard-lining to understanding the enviability of a non-custodial digital wallet in every pocket (or at least, on every device).
Regardless of the motivation, there was some kind of unifying principles of building alternatives to provide people with more efficient and more customizable options — and along the way disrupting the status quo.
But that’s not really the full story.
The crypto space was never really straight-laced. Despite marketing narratives about crypto being the “People’s Money” or money without borders, the real truth is that in the early days some of the primary uses of bitcoin and its derivatives were for online poker halls and gambling.
Today, little is different. Headlines in the financial press for the last 12 months have been about one fraudster after another falling and in the process losing hundreds of millions of dollars of their customers’ hard earned money.
Most of the fraudsters weren’t shadowy scammers. They were CEOs of companies, people that are invited on podcasts and are big shots on Twitter.
Don’t get me wrong. There are legit use cases for crypto and I do think breaking down the barriers to financial inclusion will be among them. Maybe someday big banks will feel as quaint as small town offices.
And it does feel that the way the world is headed, what with the cracks in major institutions, groups, and organizations that once provided some kind of social cohesion are crumbling — the need and the ability for people to actually own and custody their own assets — in some ways the least marketable part of crypto — might actually have the most utility.
But, I also think it’s important to realize that there are a lot of people who are just out to make a buck and they find it easy to hide behind the big ideas embodied by the ideology the fueled the rise of permissionless digital assets possible.
Crypto has always been confusing. In a lot of ways it’s a technology and movement still looking for its product market fit.
After all a roadmap of crypto’s brief but wondrous history would look like this:
- Crypto not Bitcoin
- Blockchain not Crypto
- DeFi not Blockchain
- Web3 not DeFi
- NFTs not Web3
But despite all of the shortcomings and confusion so far, if nothing else, the last few weeks and months should demonstrate the importance of owning of our assets and our data.
Between major banks in the US collapsing and major social media platforms (places that some people rely on for their livelihood) are fragmenting or just becoming way less valuable.
While, on the surface some of these changes appear to be about changes in leadership or terms and conditions, it can also be viewed as a rapid repositioning during the rise of AI — or a tug-of-war between digital scarcity and abundance.
In the past if you wanted to work, play, or interact on the internet you just had to accept that true ownership of your words and assets was not really possible.
But today, if you want to hop from Twitter to Threads, it should be possible to port your content and your audience — all of the stuff that you have created should, on some level, have some kind of ownership characteristics.
Whether that means you can port the content or the audience, whatever — but the risk of losing a platform or of a bank closing its doors should in a lot of ways feel like a last century problem.
But it doesn’t.
In the end, I think the ideals that led the the rise of crypto — the ideas and tech that enable Satoshi Nakamoto to launch the Bitcoin network and usher in a new way of interacting on the internet will prevail.
Likely the mass adoption of crypto won’t be on the back of some kind of Wall Street-like product, but it will come by providing people more peace of mind — via ownership and custody of assets — during a time of rapid transition.