As the 2018 holiday season starts, we’ve been treated to a full-on rout in crypto markets, instead of the holiday rally some had hoped for. For some, that might make it hard to enjoy the season.
But it’s also an opportunity to revisit the fundamental reasons so many people are enthralled by cryptocurrency and blockchain. Crypto’s financial element is inseparable from its revolutionary promise, but major price movements can also distract from the larger stakes.
So here are five big reasons today, and every day, is a good day to be in crypto.
1. The decentralized web is coming.
The blockchain application that average people are most likely to get behind today is the idea that it could help us escape the grip of companies like Google and, especially, Facebook. For years, the public at large seemed entirely fine with the idea that these companies were tracking our activity and tastes in exchange for their services. Then came Cambridge Analytica, mind-warping kids’ videos on YouTube, and a wave of other proof that these companies were in no way responsible stewards of that data.
We are still in the very, very early days of building alternatives to the mind-control hellscape we’ve backed ourselves into. But it’s happening, and crypto will be important, and maybe even central. Civic and other sovereign identity efforts will give you much more granular control over specific elements of your online identity. Efforts like Brave (BAT) and Civil, while still nascent and facing some recent challenges, are a solid preview of how journalists and other creators can get paid outside of the existing, privacy-compromising, clickbait-breeding digital ad ecosystem.
2. The internet of value is unstoppable.
I don’t happen to be among the libertarian devotees who believe that central banking is an inherently nefarious boondoggle that will inevitably lead to Weimar Germany-level hyperinflation. But some related points are undeniable: The global banking system as a whole is profoundly, systemically corrupt. Weak currencies in developing nations allow dictators to rob their people. And the 1950s technology we currently use to pay for things on the internet is absurdly inefficient and insecure.
It may not happen in one year, or even five years. We don’t know whether bitcoin will win—maybe something else will supplant it, or maybe a thousand crypto flowers will bloom. But there is an inexorable logic to the adoption of digital cash that ignores borders, lets us transact without broadcasting our identity to any hacker who happens to be online, and lets us act as our own bank instead of relying on systems in the pocket of the power elite.
3. We’re building like mad.
The landscape of crypto startups, companies, products, and tools we have access to today would have been unrecognizable, if not unimaginable, two or three years ago. Obviously, there have been plenty of bad ideas, failed executions, and outright scams. But there are also real products with real users, and even real, non-speculative revenue (though that’s still too rare). In addition to Brave and Civil, I’d cite BitPesa, the blockchain-based mobile payments system that’s spreading across North Africa; and of course Ripple, a possibly major advance in financial infrastructure that is truly starting to gain traction.
We are also beginning to see the promise of blockchain-based gaming, and that’s anything but trivial. Some of the earliest major use cases for bitcoin were simple games like Satoshi Dice, but the truly revolutionary application has turned out to be non-fungible tokens such as ERC 721, better known as digital collectibles. CryptoPunks and CryptoKitties blazed the trail, but things get really wild when you start giving those digital objects roles in more elaborate games. We already have CryptoKitties racing, and a coming wave of card games and MMOs and even a virtual-reality ecosystem. All of those have the potential to be interoperable—but more importantly, you truly own the digital objects you’re using. The first such game to truly go mainstream will, in no uncertain terms, change everything for crypto.
(Oh, and a lot of this development is being fueled by ICO money. If that makes getting rekt feel any better.)
4. We’re taking out the trash.
If there’s one thing crypto pioneers got wrong, it was their stance on government regulation and the law. In the U.S., the SEC has taken a remarkably light touch with real innovation efforts like Ethereum, while cracking down on the wave of scam artists who have flocked to the sector. The ongoing crash and public disillusionment will also lower the incentive for scammers.
Meanwhile, media coverage of blockchain is getting better. There’s a new class of crypto-first sources including Messari and The Block, and major outlets like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have knowledgeable staffers and take the space seriously without ignoring its absurd or corrupt elements. We’re not cancer-free yet (I’m looking at you, CNBC and Forbes Media), but bit by bit, we’re beginning to leave behind the wild west of brazen media corruption and mindless hype.
It all may feel like too little, too late after the disappearance of hundreds of millions of dollars down the scam-hole, but it bodes extremely well for the future. The latest SEC settlement with two apparently well-intentioned ICOs even begins to sketch a vision for legitimizing tokenomics-based investment models (though whether those models will actually work is a live question).
5. Bitcoin isn’t dead.
In our roundtable of expert commentary on the latest downturn, blockchain VC Nic Carter pointed out that, during the 2014 slump, he was “worried that bitcoin would be abandoned.” God knows if we’ve seen the end of the current carnage, and anything is possible, but it seems nearly impossible that bitcoin will go to zero unless it gets supplanted by a better cryptocurrency. The idea of decentralized money simply isn’t going away, no matter how loud Nouriel Roubini screams into his pillow.
In fact, if you bought bitcoin before August 2017 (or Ethereum before May) you’ve still made money. If you bought bitcoin as late as April of last year, you’ve quadrupled your money in a little over a year. That isn’t the reason any of this exists, but it’s a useful index of the rapid, ongoing spread of understanding of and enthusiasm for crypto and blockchain.
That’s probably cold comfort for more recent entrants who are underwater. But maybe, just maybe, it helps to be reminded that this is about more than making money. It’s about changing money—how it works, who controls it, and maybe even who has it. That’s not going to happen overnight. But it will happen.