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Crypto Culture: Then and Now

By March 26, 2018 No Comments

Let’s explore the progression of culture in the cryptocurrency space. The purpose is to present a record for future generations, that may be used in educational material when studying the nature and history of blockchain technology. It should serve as a piece that would be easy to read and understand and give a glimpse at the early beginnings of this technological revolution. It is important to preface this by saying that I, myself, have actively been in the space only since early 2017. Anything I report on prior to that is purely from material I have found and read online, giving me a second-hand interpretation of the cultural dynamics of the time. In addition, no single article can possibly cover the vast number of events that have transpired in these 10 years, so I try to present only the most notable cultural paradigms and shifts so far. With that in mind, let’s get started.

The Pre-Fork Era

Firstly, we look at the scene before 2017 which we’ll call the “Pre-Fork Era”. This is the time before the BTC/BCH fork in summer of 2017 and the years leading to the massive altcoin spring in March-May 2017.

The Dawn of Bitcoin

In October 2008 the Bitcoin Whitepaper was distributed to a cryptography mailing list. Following that, the first Bitcoin block was mined on January 3rd, 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto. It is called the genesis block and it contained 50 Bitcoins. In the codebase of the block was embedded the following: “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.”

This was both an important timestamp for the date of inception of Bitcoin, and a strong message that would forever shape the emerging culture around the technology.

Many people talk about how “if you would buy ‘X’ amount of Bitcoin in 2010” you’d be a multi-millionaire by now. What these people don’t understand is that there was no real market for Bitcoin back then. You wouldn’t just go and buy some Bitcoin like you would today. You’d have to know certain types of people, namely the developers working on the technology.

That was the culture in the first couple of years. A group of developers and economists around the world, disenchanted with the banking system, working on a better solution. They shared ideas from across the globe, worked on the code tirelessly to improve the technology, told people who they thought would understand, and didn’t bother too much with non-believers. Slowly, as trading markets began to emerge, more and more people were drawn in. Some, like the founders and early developers, out of sense of justice and need for betterment of the system. Others, for the opportunity to make an extraordinary amount of money through this massively volatile asset.

Magic the Gathering: Online Exchange

In March 2011, Magic the Gathering: Online Exchange, or Mt.Gox for short, was sold to French developer Mark Karpelès. It’s previous owner, Jed McCaleb had originally built the site in late 2007 as a place where people could trade ‘Magic the Gathering’ cards similarly to stocks. In July 2010, after McCaleb read about Bitcoin in the Slashdot forum, he decided to build the exchange for Bitcoin instead. He then handed it over to Karpelès a year later because he did not have the time and perhaps the motivation to build a Bitcoin exchange to its full potential.

Mt. GOX Exchange Logo / Wikipedia

The years between 2011 and the end of 2013 would then forever change the underlying culture of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency in general. It was two and a half glorious years for Bitcoin. In 2010 the cryptocurrency was going around for cents on the dollar in various online exchanges and between private buyers and sellers. By the end of 2011 it had reached a peak of double digits in US dollars! Much of this appreciation was due to developments in the technology, word of mouth, but also thanks to the Mt.Gox exchange advertising the technology like a tradable currency. This attracted many opportunistic individuals who further shaped the nature of cryptocurrency culture.

You’d have to be of a certain type of character to join Bitcoin this early. Either you were drawn by the technology, were a nerdy individual, possibly with an IT background, and a sense of disgust at the way banks operate; or you were drawn by the volatility, you were of an economic and/or Forex background, and most likely an opportunist.

You liked the promise of big money, had some cash lying around and wanted to try your hand at trading the markets. You most likely weren’t a professional trader, rather a retail one. These two main characters bred a culture of anarchism and, paradoxically, a strong sense of community.

The bitcointalk forum founded by Satoshi Nakamoto was getting livelier, price was volatile and 60–200% swings were not uncommon in either direction, but the general trend was up. A small handful of alternative currencies (altcoins) appeared, promising to do what Bitcoin did, but better, or something different that Bitcoin can’t do. Many think Litecoin was the first one, but it was actually Namecoin interestingly enough — with the purpose of decentralizing domain registrations. Anarchistic personalities started making youtube videos about bringing down the world order, and how Bitcoin would overtake traditional currencies. Massive debates were had by a tiny community of people that either believed, wanted to believe, or were too blind to. A few articles started appearing around saying how it’s fundamentally flawed, how it’s going to die or it’s already dead. 4chan and Reddit threads — a lot now deleted — were springing up alerting more individuals about the opportunity. Mainstream media was barely covering the technology, apart from a few curious/dismissive articles here and there. This was a very volatile and uncertain time, but the overall consensus was that it’s worth a shot.

The Age of the Great Bear

In the final months of 2013 the price of Bitcoin shot up from a hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars, with Mt.Gox leading the charge, handling over 70% of the volume. However, after the all-time high of $1155 recorded on Coinmarketcap at the time, the price would not return to these levels for over three years. And in fact, for the next year and a half it would go on to slowly and painfully lose around 85% of that value.

Many things happened in these dark years for Bitcoin. Most notably, Mt.Gox filed for bankruptcy after almost three months of having withdrawals halted. It turned out that over 700,000 bitcoins had been stolen from their reserves years ago and the company had turned insolvent. This, along with the already declining price, plunged the community into despair. Many gave up, said this was the end. The few articles that were saying Bitcoin would fail were now springing by the dozens. China was banning Bitcoin basically every week. Countless men and women in suits were looking down upon these ‘Bitcoin cultists’ telling them “I told you so” without remorse. With prices reaching as low as $200–300 it all started to seem irreversible. A large part of people who had invested in the boom had left by this point. This was a culture torn asunder. This was a community destroyed and obliterated. Almost all hope was lost. Bitcoin was dead.

However, Bitcoin was not dead. In fact, it was very much alive. Developers kept working on the code, new exchanges kept coming along, new people kept joining once they had learned about the potential of the technology. Between mid-2013 and mid-2014 a tremendous amount of altcoins sprung up further enriching the network and the exchanges. Most were worthless here-one-day-gone-the-next type of schemes, but some stuck.

DogeCoin Logo / Dogecoin.com

Like DogeCoin! And a little-known Initial Coin Offering platform called Ethereum, which was in fact itself an ICO! It was selling on Bleutrade for less than 100 satoshi per coin! And Ripple appeared… That’s a little bit of a touchy story since at the time the culture was “We hate banks, they ruined the economy, Bitcoin will replace them!” and here comes Ripple working WITH the gangster banksters trying to merge blockchain technology with them. That shook things up! Bitcoin maximalists were born, shunning and hating on Ripple and any other altcoin that appeared on the market with the promise of overthrowing the one true cryptocurrency. During this period, the famous HODL abbreviation was born as well! Altcoins started having market cycles, pump and dumps were born, manipulation of the markets was rampant and easy. Many scams started to appear, both from coin creators, exchanges, and anyone in between!

A lot of people lost their money during this time out of desperation to get it back from the failing Bitcoin prices. This was by no means a “dead space” as portrayed by the media during that period, no matter how negative things got at times. Personalities on Twitter like notsofast, crypto cobain, 22loops, and many others were being moulded into becoming the OGs they are today. For many this was their first major bear market. Those who made it out alive, and still holding onto their coins, came out the other end a bit roughed up, a bit more cynical, and a bit more cautious. But nonetheless they were stronger, fiercer, and more motivated than ever to push forward and take Bitcoin to new heights.

The Post-Fork Era

This section covers the, currently, short period of time between Spring 2017 and present day (26th of March 2018). In January-February of 2017, things were looking a lot better than before. Bitcoin had risen way above its low of around $200 almost back to $1,000. The overall market cap of the market at the time was about $10–15 billion with Bitcoin leading the charge and Ethereum close behind. No-one was truly prepared for what happened next.

Altcoin Spring

Between March and June 2017, the market cap rose to over $100BN. Ripple went from half a cent to almost 50 cents. Another cryptocurrency — Stratis, from half a cent to over $10. Antshares (now NEO) from a few cents to over $10, all back to back to back! At the same time, the Ethereum network was developed to the point where many aspiring entrepreneurs and development teams started issuing ICOs for their own blockchain related projects. This further filled the space with new money, which in turn pushed Ethereum to new heights from $10–20 to over $400! At this point, the culture had completely shifted. The few that had remained from the dark days had meshed with the new that had just arrived and made insane gains practically overnight! If you had started with $1,000 in February 2017 and played your cards right, you could have had over $100K by the end of June! This marked the start of a new major bull-run for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. The nature of communication shifted from forums, airdrops, Proof of Work (mineable) coins, to Slack and Telegram channels, ICOs, pre-mined and Proof of Stake/Masternode coins.

Bcash Summer

A notable even was the mid-july Bcash fork where Bitcoin essentially split into two. Everyone who held Bitcoin in their wallets received an equal amount of Bcash. Because this was an unprecedented event there was much uncertainty in the space and the market briefly lost over 35% in less than a month. But after the fork things appeared to be back to normal and prices continued to rise! The culture was one of constant pumps, everyone was making money! Gurus started springing out from the ground, YouTube channels started reviewing coins and ICOs. Technical analysts with years of professional experience joined the space and started sharing their insight on price action and candlestick patterns. Many newbies started imitating them. Because it was such a massive bull run even the most basic looking chart was a sure hit, everything was pumping together!

China Fall

For a brief period in September China said it was banning Bitcoin again or something. Some banker also said Bitcoin was a fraud, like that was some new or original statement. Turned out his little daughter was actually investing in cryptocurrency. Smart girl. One of the Twitter OGs mistakenly told everyone to exit all the crypto markets, that was a fun ordeal. But, by that point everyone knew China and the banks were practically non-relevant, so we quickly forgot about it and by the end of October we were back to making new heights! The excitement was growing, the community channels were buzzing, we were feeling like everyone and their grandma was in this ready for the big pump!

The Bcash Debacle

Roger Ver / Linkedin.com

Something funny happened for a few days in November. Roger Ver, the creater of Bcash fork (which took place in summer), was an early adopter of Bitcoin and disagreed with some of the plans that few developers had for the technology. He decided to fork it and make his own. Instead of branding it something original he called it Bitcoin Cash and tried to hijack the brand. This was done to such an extent that in early November, the Bitcoin mem-pool was mysteriously spammed with thousands of small transactions making the system clog up. This temporarily brought the price down.

 

At the same time Bitcoin Cash’s price started rising exponentially with the South Korean exchange Bithumb leading the charge. However, at the peak of Bcash’s rise to the top, the Bithumb exchange mysteriously crashed. This sent the price of the coin plunging back down and it has since not recovered. Very coincidentally, Roger Ver was in South Korea at the time. And very coincidentally right after this all transpired the mem-pool for Bitcoin was cleared up and all the spam transactions stopped — the system was working fine again. That was fun to watch happening both on the charts and on social media, with thousands of people parading Bcash as the real Bitcoin. All those people fell silent after the event, almost as if they were some kind of sock puppets, who knows. You can draw your own conclusions.

Winter Boom

After which, the hype continued. At this point, Bitcoin had gone past the psychological $10,000 barrier and had quickly made its way to the high $15Ks. Songs about it were being sung online, popular news outlets started advertising it telling people how to buy. Celebrities like Paris Hilton and Katy Perry were advertising the space in various ways. Futures trading launched which meant that Wall Street could now trade a futures market for Bitcoin. That sure was a wholesome experience later on. All other cryptocurrencies were at the very top. People started wearing hand-knit sweaters with Bitcoin and Litecoin on them. Mainstream companies like Kodak and KFC joined the space in their own ways. Any rational investor could have seen that the top was near. And in fact, many of the OGs that had experienced that before did! One such legend, Crypto Cobain, tweeting “I’m close to officially calling the top on this motherfucker.”

Happy New Year!

And so, it was! At the peak of everyone’s euphoria, altcoin and Bitcoin prices plummeted. In the following months of January and February the market went from a high of $827BN to a low of $283BN. Bitcoin lost over 70% of its value dropping from a high of $20K to a low of almost $5800. Times are currently uncertain. We may be beginning a new altcoin spring, or it may be just a dead-cat bounce, we don’t know. Articles are starting to spring up again about how dead Bitcoin is, how ICOs should be illegal, how everything is a scam, and we’re all just in it for the money. Good developments like the new Lightning Network and Atomic Swaps are not being reported. Smaller more unknown cryptocurrencies like NANO, XBY and RDN that are major scaling solutions are not being reported. Few people seem to care that governments for the first time ever are addressing officially the nature of cryptocurrencies and are taking an agnostic and thoughtful approach to their integration into society. But none of that matters. We know. We now have a stronger culture than ever before.

Together We Are Strong

Image By Corello Hosting

The current climate is, in my humble opinion, the strongest it has ever been for crypto. Sure, scams and market manipulation are still prevalent. Of course, we know Bitfinex, the new Mt.Gox on the block, is doing illegal and shady stuff with Tether, pegging their stable coin to the dollar. No doubt, if they shut down due to a government crackdown it would probably send the price of Bitcoin plummeting to below $3K and altcoins with it. We realize that, and we’re still here. Because we know that none of that matters. The only thing that matters is that we fix the broken system of corrupt bankers and politicians running our world. The trust-less decentralized nature of the blockchain provides that solution. Ours is a culture of knowledge. There are still new people only in it for the money who do not understand the bigger picture and that’s fine. But the point is that more people than ever before understand the bigger picture and are willing to stick through these hard times for the massive potential rewards this revolutionary technology can bring both to us as individuals and as a society. That is where we are right now, and that, my dear readers, is where we’re heading.

Parting Words

As I said, I’ve only lived through a small fraction of what I described in this article, so if you’ve spotted any factual errors, please do leave a comment and we will amend it ASAP!

I hope you have enjoyed this trip back to memory lane to revisit the past, hopefully learn from it, and continue forward with a bit more conviction than before. If you’re someone from the distant future researching the phenomenon that it is crypto, and have stumbled upon this small piece, I hope it has given you some insight. A glimpse as to what things were like before all the major coins’ market caps were in the trillions. A time when price movements were in the hundreds of per cents instead of the fractions of one. A scary time. A glorious time. A time of revolution.

If you’d like to see stuff like this in the future, give me a follow.

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More on me 👇 Crypto Calavera

Full Time Cryptocurrency Trader

Contributing Writer on Cryptoweek

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