7 April 2022
Tech Culture

Why I'm Still on the Fence About Crypto

As somebody who has been lucky enough to not only experience a number of online trends—early Web adoption, The Web Standards Movement, the emergence of UX Design, Web 2.0, the Mobile Web—but to benefit from them, I can see why folks are excited about the rise of Crypto. 

It’s a new(ish) set of technologies and approaches that promise to change the way we interact, transact, build products and build communities online. So if you’re a young technologist who felt they’d maybe missed out on previous trends, why wouldn’t you jump on this particular wave. Especially if there’s a first move advantage and the potential to make large amounts of money in the process?

Of course there are plenty of criticisms about crypto, as there were with many of the other trends I mentioned. Plenty of people poking holes in the approach and explaining why it’s never going to work. I remember being on the receiving end of those conversations and I found it super frustrating. “The Internet is too slow to be useful”, “It’s not safe to do business online”, “People won’t want to buy clothes they can’t try on ”, “who cares about the usability and accessibility of Flash?”, “table based layout is here to stay”. Of course all these criticisms largely disappeared, as a new dominant culture formed. 

Today I find myself on the other side of the conversation. Raising concerns around the volatility of crypto currencies, the cost of gas fees, the bad UX of wallets, and the sheer volume of online scams. For every concern I raise, crypto proponents have an answer. This will be solved by emerging blockchain platforms, the move from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake and the more designers who get involved with the tech, the better the user experience will become. All of these arguments sound reasonable on the surface. However there’s something about the certainty and religious fervor of the answers that puts me off. 

A lot of this comes down to the communities involved. During the previous trends I mentioned, I found a real sense of synergy with the other proponents. Pretty much everybody I met was doing it because they wanted to make the Web better, faster, more accessible and easier to use. However the current crypto dialogue feels a lot more exclusionary and driven by self interest. As such it’s one of those weird things where I’m curious about the possibilities of the tech, but put off by the language and culture (hfsp). 

I also struggle a little when people explain their new crypto projects to me, as they seem to spend more time talking about the governance structure than what they’re actually building or why. All the talk of DAOs, Discords, tokens, smart contracts and treasuries sounds like an entrepreneur getting excited about limited companies, board seats, share classes, articles of association and fund raises. As such I often find it challenging to understand the tangible benefits of building a crypto version of X, beyond the hype of having a crypto version of X.

This all leaves me wondering whether there is something fundamentally different between this trend and the previous trends I backed? That I’m somehow missing the “come to Damascus moment” other folks have experienced? Or whether a lot of it really is “Emperor's New Clothes” 

I don’t know what the answer is. However the above thought process reminds me of Dounglas Adams' famous assertion about technology.

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

  2. Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

  3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”