Learn: Is Crypto a Cultural Movement?
Crypto can resemble a cultural movement with the capacity to reshape mainstream orthodoxies. Within crypto, narratives shift and new groups offer solutions to prominent social issues.
Spend too much time on crypto Twitter (known in affectionate shorthand as CT), or in the tangled web of associated blogs, podcasts and online publications that revolve around crypto, and you can start to feel like you’re in a different world.
In crypto, priorities and preferences are very different to those found elsewhere, with an example being the amount of ETH that deeply crypto-immersed buyers were willing to throw at NFTs throughout 2021 and the first half of 2022 (and ongoing, although sales volumes have declined).
To an outsider, spending the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars on, in some instances, a JPEG animal illustration in NFT format was simply incomprehensible. And yet, from a crypto-based perspective (and especially for those with deep ETH-rich pockets), such trades made sense at the time and continue to do so now.
The dollar-value of ETH may be down, but NFTs from the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection currently change hands for a minimum of 76 ETH, reduced from over 150 ETH at their peak, but core to a project that is buoyant and actively developing, and not forgetting that at the time of launch, Bored Apes sold for just 0.08 ETH.
Considering the idea of distinct communities that are, or originally were, angled away from the mainstream, crypto starts to resemble the counter-cultural spheres that typically emerge around, for example, art, music and literature, and sometimes at the tech fringes.
It’s noteworthy, when considering the future of crypto, that some countercultures wind up, in the end, entering the mainstream, or perhaps irrevocably altering the mainstream to the point where they can inhabit it.
Look at the history of Bitcoin and crypto, and it becomes apparent that throughout the fourteen years since Bitcoin launched, varying hopes and narratives have become attached to crypto, depending on prevalent social issues.
Bitcoin was enabled as a direct reaction to the global financial crises of 2007/8, as implicitly indicated by a message encoded into the Bitcoin genesis block, which reads:
"The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks."
Initially, Bitcoin was an antidote to financial malfeasance, but also, according to its proponents at least, to deep irreparable fault lines that extend out from the core of fiat money systems.
These are profoundly far-reaching problems to engineer a solution for, and the blockchain fix leads to what’s known as the Orange Pill: dig into and learn about Bitcoin, a mental switch will flick, and you will forever view the world differently.
Would the Orange Pill have been so potent had the value of one bitcoin not surged from zero to almost $70,000? Perhaps a better question would be how a near-$70,000 price tag could have been achieved were the Orange Pill not potent.
What we certainly witness around Bitcoin, is a definable culture, or counter-culture, and a sense of community, albeit one defined partly through a default suspicion of all forms of collectivism.
Crypto as an Alternative
As we watch the rest of crypto emerge from bitcoin’s trail, we see blockchain solutions and their promise of acting as a gravitational attractor for anyone simply seeking an alternative.
At first, that may mean an alternative to standard forms of money and finance, but the financial aspect then comes to act as a proxy, with the rejected orthodoxy of becoming not only financial, but also, more vaguely, the constraints around conventional lifestyles and ways of thinking.
Can crypto actually provide a release? Or was it simply that holders might get rich, and achieve individual off-routes from the pedestrian trudge?
As time has passed, it's become clear that the alternative ecosystems are really persistent and have continued to converge and create through bull market bubbles and every crypto winter that has followed.
It may, during some periods, have been freezing cold, but dedicated participants found ways to keep warm. And, if maintaining a focused community through the hardest of times means anything at all, then it indicates that there is more at stake than just rising prices.
Experimental but fast-paced, weird and winging it, sometimes subversive but rarely political, NFT projects are often in it for the money, but any tech that allows for a binding together of profit motives, creativity and disruption across sectors is not to be dismissed.
Bitcoiners are sometimes hostile towards NFTs, but they shouldn’t be: Bitcoin might well change the world, but NFTs will constantly warp it again at the edges.
Returning to the point of new narratives shifting to fit currently prominent concerns, there is a lot of discussion recently about censorship, social media, and free expression online. Accordingly, crypto is promoted as a solution, offering, potentially, the foundations on which to construct decentralized, censorship-resistant platforms.
Here, again, we see a distinct new focus emerge, honed in on crypto as a tool by which to evade censorship mechanisms. One more tribe, then, is added to the ebbing and flowing crypto population. Another faction that may realize its aims, or get rich trying as the cycles rotate.