Bitcoin – Keeping Digital Communities Weird

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Thank you for having me here. It's really a pleasure.
This is my first time in Poland. I've traveled all around Europe; for some reason,
I had not been to Poland before. I'm really enjoying my stay in Warsaw and
I'm really excited to be here for this particular event. Thank you so much to the organizers of this event
for making it possible for me to visit Warsaw, and to participate in this. The title of my presentation is
"The Future of Programmable Money," … which is not the title of my presentation.
It's what I set as the title of all my presentations, because I don't decide what I'm going to talk about
until maybe two hours before the presentation.

So I'm going to be as surprised as the rest of you to find
out exactly what [I'm] going to be talking about today. I wanted to start by getting a bit of
information about the audience. Unfortunately, I couldn't understand
what Phillip was saying before me. How many of you here own a cryptocurrency or have
done at least one transaction at some point in your life? [AUDIENCE raises hands]
[ANDREAS] Everyone? Okay. Good. That's going to be easier for me. I won't need to
explain what the hell is going on with cryptocurrencies. I can just jump into it. I want to talk today about communities;
how we build interesting, exciting communities, both online and in person. I've traveled a lot in my life.
I've lived in many, many different places. I find that I am always attracted to
a certain kind of neighborhood. I like to live in a place where there are
a lot of artists, a lot of musicians. I like to live in neighborhoods
that have weird little coffee shops…

And obscure bars where people play live music. [Where] you get to see bands, musicians, and artists;
places that have graffiti on the walls. Perhaps places that — at least when I live
in those places — they're not that safe. You know? They're still a bit dangerous. In fact, I often find myself living in neighborhoods
where I'm the only white person in the neighborhood. Or I'm the only non-local in the neighborhood. But those neighborhoods don't last. The artists, the musicians, the poor students,
the people who are living in those neighborhoods, love those neighborhoods too because rent is cheap.

Because the development of the
neighborhood hasn't happened yet. Because there's opportunities for expression. With all of the weirdness and
the not-so-safe environments, there's a lot of weird and creative people who come. Inevitably, when you stay in a neighborhood
like that long enough, other people notice. It starts becoming a "cool" neighborhood.
When it becomes a "cool" neighborhood, people who can afford to start
moving into that neighborhood. Then richer and richer people start
moving into that neighborhood. In a year or two, there's a Starbucks on the corner. The [interesting] bar that had all of the weird and
quirky musicians is replaced by a gallery or boutique that sells a bit more upscale,
more expensive clothes than before.

Then the rents start going up,
the real estate property values start going up. Before long, the artists, the musicians,
and all of the interesting people who are the reason you moved to that neighborhood,
they can't afford to live there anymore. So they move and eventually the neighborhood
is full of young professionals…. wearing suits, going to work every morning, 9am to 5pm.
With their Starbucks coffee in their hand. They're very busy and they're on their phone.
That neighborhood is now shit. You leave and you go to find a cool neighborhood again.
The cycle repeats. "Gentrification" is the word we use in the
United States to describe that phenomenon. Turns out that all of the things that
make a neighborhood interesting, all of the quirky and weird people,
they don't stay very long.

If you like to live in that environment, an environment
that is full of creativity and expression, the worst thing that can happen to that environment
is commodification, corporatization, marketing. When you have something cool like that…
if you take something that is cool and authentic, and you turn it into a marketing campaign for
Coca-Cola or Nike, it's not cool anymore. By the time they think it's "cool," it's not cool anymore.

It ruins the authenticity. The money starts pouring in
and all of the authenticity is gone. I first went online and participated in
digital communities in the middle of the 1980s. In order to participate in those digital
communities, I had to buy a modem. I had to dial into a bulletin board system. This bulletin board system was run by
some person in their basement as a hobby. It had maybe a hundred and fifty participants in it,
who were all just as weird as I was.

Weird 15-year-olds who had modems,
who other people didn't understand. We had such a good time having conversations online. Then towards the end of the 90s, bulletin
board systems started getting popular. Big companies started buying the smaller operators,
advertising, charging membership fees, "polishing" and "improving" the content. They [tried] to make it a bit
more palatable for mainstream. "Watch your language." "Don't say bad words."
"Only things for adults." "Let's keep this family-friendly." All of the interesting and weird people who made the
bulletin board system interesting in the first place…

Start looking for somewhere else to have their
conversations, because they're not welcome anymore. In some cases, because they can't
afford to participate anymore. All of the creative conversation, the reason we went there in the first place, is now gone. In fact, one of the weird things about
these bulletin board systems in those days… it was all guys. At the time, there were no women participating
in online bulletin board systems in 1985. But the corporations tried to convert these
bulletin board systems into dating sites. They had guys pretend to be women
so they could attract more customers. You find yourself in a situation, having a conversation
with another guy whose online name is "Helen," in order to sell more subscriptions to
the bulletin board system. Marketing! The funny thing: there were a few women online
at that time and they were using guys' names so they could feel more comfortable
and less freaked out by weirdos. They had the fake "Helen" talking to them, fake flirting
to get them to pay more for a subscription. By that time, I had already moved on to Usenet.
Usenet was a group discussion that was happening…

Across all of the Internet at the time,
towards the end of the 1980s. It was a text-based community where you could
exchange messages with anyone around the world who was on the internet. At the time, [that] was maybe 500,000 people.
Usenet was weird, very weird in fact. There was a special corner of Usenet
called the "alt" groups, the alternative groups, that you couldn't access in all places. But where you
could access them, that was the special place. That's where all of the Dungeons & Dragons fans,
all the comic book fans, all the weird sci-fi fans, a lot of the sex and weird hobbies [met]. Generally, people who didn't fit well into
other groups were in the "alt" groups. Then the corporations came. They started carrying Usenet as a subscription service.
The first thing they dropped was the alt groups.

Now you could pay to get the clean version of Usenet,
but you couldn't get the alt groups because those weren't very polite at times.
They weren't very corporate. They weren't very clean. They took Usenet with all of its weirdness, all of its
quirkiness, and they dressed it in a suit, cut its hair, and it became boring.
All of the interesting people moved on. Then the Web happens. With the web
we had this explosion of creativity and expression.

At first all of the websites were weird: too many colors,
blinking tags and fonts, everything looked terrible. [There was] no sense of design. But the conversations you could have, the creativity
and the weird people you could meet, was fantastic. Then the corporations came in. They polished everything
and cleaned it up. "No bad words on this site!" "This is moderated content."
CompuServe and AOL came along, built curated environments protected from all the dirty words and all the weird people. Gentrification in waves across the internet, our digital domain being gentrified just like a neighborhood. [With] every cycle of gentrification, the same result: the people who went there who made
that place interesting [were] no longer welcome, [couldn't] afford to participate, not allowed to speak.
And so they leave. All of the reasons why you joined
in the first place are no longer there. Many of the people who left all of those curated
environments went to other parts of the Web, started their own websites
and independent communities. Then Web 2.0 happened. When Web 2.0 happened,
we [got] the MySpaces, then the Facebooks and other social media sites.

They very carefully curate the content. You can post Nazi messages on Facebook
and get away with it for a while, … but God help you if you show a breast.
Oh, no, we can't have that. It's a family environment. Don't say bad words.
Carefully curated, lots of marketing, very polished. All of the interesting people leave.
If you still have a Facebook account, it's so you can see photos of your grandchildren. Kids don't want to be on Facebook. The reason they don't want to be on Facebook
is because their parents are there now. And so they leave. They go to Reddit and 4chan.
Gentrification… Bitcoin was weird.
I really loved Bitcoin when it was weird. But for some people, Bitcoin was too weird,
[too] difficult to understand. There was a small possibility that you could
buy drugs with bitcoin.

pexels photo 6476808

But not the "good" drugs. Not the drugs made by Pfizer that cost a lot of money.
Not Adderall, which is an amphetamine. Not Fentanyl, which is heroin.
Not prescription "good" drugs. Bad drugs. Like marijuana… People could buy drugs. They could do other things
that were not very good for the corporate image. So how do you gentrify a currency? How do you take something that is weird, dress it up in
a suit, give it a haircut, present it to board executives? I remember the first few years when I'd go to companies;
they'd ask me to come and present. They would say to me, "We want you to talk to our executives, but when you talk to our executives," "could you please say 'blockchain'? Don't say 'Bitcoin',
because Bitcoin is weird and blockchain is the future." And I said, "No, I won't say 'blockchain.' I will say 'Bitcoin',
because Bitcoin is the future and blockchain is bullshit." "I'll also say 'bullshit' to your executives, because you
paid me to come here and tell you the truth as I see it." I'm not going to try to sell you something
that's nicely packaged, just to avoid offending." I'm interested in telling the truth.

The reason cryptocurrencies are interesting, the reason
Bitcoin is interesting, is because it's not controlled. It can't be censored, because it's open.
A lot of the people involved are very "weird." Weird computer geeks, weird cryptographers
who have weird ideas about privacy and freedom. These weird people are why I'm involved in Bitcoin,
because I'm weird too and that's okay.

If you take all of that out, what you're left with
— this blockchain — is a sterile, inexpressive, un-[innovative] environment. A corporate plaything that has been sanitized of
everything interesting and left as an empty shell. It's basically a very slow database. If someone comes to you and [asks],
"Do I need a blockchain for my business," ask them: "Do you need something that is open, neutral, borderless,
which no one controls and resists censorship?" If yes, then you need Bitcoin.
Or Ethereum. Monero. Zcash. Some open, public, blockchain cryptocurrency system
that expresses these capabilities. But if you don't need something that's open,
borderless, neutral, censorship-resistant, and not controlled by anyone,
what you're really asking for is a database.

So install a database. You don't need a blockchain. If you take all of the weird people out, with them goes
all of the innovation, all of the interesting development. If what you try to do is make business-as-usual,
only now with a blockchain… If the purpose of introducing
this technology into your bank is to be able to not change anything
about how you do business… Or if your government says, "We will do a digital
currency. We heard there's a digital currency… using 'blockchain' that is open, decentralized,
borderless, censorship-resistant, and neutral." "We want to do just that, except we don't want it to be open, decentralized, censorship-resistant, neutral… or borderless. We'd like that but we want it to be controlled within our borders, with the ability to control…

Who has access to it, with full censorship.
We ultimately decide who has power on this system." Also known as a database.
You can build that and it will be boring. All of the innovation, all of the excitement, all of
the reason why I'm interested in these technologies — and perhaps why some of you are interested in
these technologies — is precisely because they're weird. Precisely because they're different, because
they're open, because they allow everyone to innovate…

And express themselves creatively
in ways that we don't anticipate. In ways that are completely unpredictable and, in
some ways, that are offensive. That's okay. I don't want to live in a world of pastel colors, carefully
curated advertising, marketing focused tested phrases, where you can't say the bad words. I want to live in a world with color, with creativity,
with variety, with diversity, with ideas. Ideas that sometimes offend me and scare me,
that I don't understand, with weird people around me… who are free to express themselves,
because that's where creativity comes from. It's not just Bitcoin. We're gonna see this happen again
and again.

We've already gone through the phase… where people said, "Yes, I'm interested
in blockchain, but not Bitcoin." When someone tells you, "I'm interested in blockchain
but not Bitcoin," what they mean is "I don't understand." Or they've heard someone else say it and
they think they can be cool if they say that too. It's a bit like someone saying, "MySpace is so last year.
I'm into Facebook now." It happened to Bitcoin, but it's going to keep happening.
It's going to keep happening to every cryptocurrency… that dares to do something interesting. Right now, the big banks and governments,
they're in love with Ethereum. They love the fact that Ethereum has all of these
capabilities that seem much less weird than Bitcoin. But they don't realize: all of the weirdness is still there.
I love the weirdness in Ethereum because… quite honestly, the whole point of Ethereum is to make
unstoppable code, applications that you cannot turn off.

The reason you can't turn them off is
because they're decentralized apps, DApps. Why make a DApp unless you wanted to
make a DApp that somebody wants to turn off, and you wanted to continue working? The whole point of an uncensorable application is
[writing] applications that are offensive to some people. People are going to write applications for
Ethereum that are going to be offensive, probably offensive to everyone in this room;
maybe a bit offensive, maybe [very] offensive. Drug markets that cannot be shut down,
sex markets that cannot be shut down.

All of the interesting applications you can do
in a decentralized, neutral, unstoppable… environment for code are precisely
applications that somebody wants to stop. Those are even more powerful in the countries
where the people who want to stop them are in power. If I'm in Russia and I want to put something on
Ethereum, I'm going to put a Pussy Riot application… just so that I can annoy Putin.
Can't stop it.

In [China], they had a problem with
sexual assaults at campuses. The academic institutions tried to shut up the victims; they put their stories on the Ethereum blockchain… so that they couldn't be censored. Any speech
worth speaking offends someone, Oscar Wilde said. Speaking the truth that somebody wants you not
to publish is journalism; everything else is marketing. At some point to the next couple of years, someone
is going to write a weird application on Ethereum. The big banks and all of the organizations
that today are absolutely enamored with Ethereum… [will] go running to the Ethereum Foundation
and to the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance. They're going to say, "Hey, we'd like you to stop this." And the Ethereum Foundation is going to say,
most likely, "No, we won't." Or better yet, "We can't." "Submit your Ethereum Improvement Proposal.
Let's see what the community thinks." "Hey, community.

Do you want to stop this application?
Because JP Morgan Chase doesn't like it. No? Oops." Or maybe they decide to stop it and we get
another hard fork. Then we have three Ethereums. Ethereum, Ethereum Classic, and Ethereum Uncensored. Because you can't stop these things.
All you can do is fork away a bullshit corporate version. But the other one continues to run.
Then what do you have? That's the moment you suddenly realize: this is the first time we have a digital
community that can't be gentrified. You can plant your Starbucks on the corner,
but you can't kick out the weirdos. If you try to kick out the weirdos, we fork it
and we take the neighborhood with us. The weirdos own this neighborhood for the
first time ever and they can't be kicked out. That's beautiful. That's what this is all about. For the first time, we now have digital communities
that can't be taken over, polished, sanitized, sterilized…

of any idea worthwhile and turned into a plaything
for Disney, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, JPMorgan Chase… to shit all over the creativity and turn it
into nothing, into empty marketing slogans. For the first time, we have digital
communities that can't be gentrified. When people ask me, "Why are you excited
about cryptocurrencies? Aren't they weird?" I say, "Yes! They're weird, they're beautifully weird.
That's why I'm interested in them." My pledge, and the pledge of all the other people
who are in this because it's weird, is to keep it weird. Thank you.
[APPLAUSE].

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