Throughout the years, I have presented the case for Bitcoin to a lot of people from a wide range of backgrounds. The list includes curious cab drivers, financial advisors, young software developers, skeptical policymakers, voiceless activists, and once even an IMF employee.
Needless to say, most of these attempts ended up falling on deaf ears. So I started asking myself “why would this person in front of me care about Bitcoin?” and immediately realized that getting a response was particularly challenging because—even among Bitcoiners—there is no common understanding of what Bitcoin is in the first place. Is it “peer-to-peer electronic cash” as Satoshi originally defined it? Or should we consider it as “digital property” as Michael Saylor suggests? Or maybe listen to Gary Gensler and define it as a commodity?
As tempting as it is to look for a common definition for Bitcoin, doing so during a time when even the most simple linguistic choices are under scrutiny makes such a venture uninspiring and, frankly, pointless.
What I decided to do instead was understand what each of those people really cared about and how Bitcoin could fit into their view of the world rather than expecting them to understand a subject they are barely interested in. As the saying goes, “If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain.”
By doing so, I realized it was unreasonable to act like Morpheus and expect my interlocutors to take a big orange pill. After all, if that approach barely worked with Neo who was “the chosen one”, why would it work with my brother-in-law or with a stranger sitting next to me on the plane?
Because I’ve known for a while that Bitcoin’s nature is multifaceted, the very idea of one single entry point to a multifaceted concept did not sound right. Depending on where one lives, social status, professional background, set of beliefs, values, and environment, there will be a different (and smaller) orange pill that will be more appropriate for each person.
More categories may emerge in the future (Jason Lowery, for example, proposes a military interpretation of Bitcoin and the recent ordinals frenzy reminded us how valuable Bitcoin’s block space can be as its own use-case), but here are the four main buckets that I have identified so far—which represent four different set of problems that Bitcoin is solving for.
1 – Hard Money
In this sense, it’s more typical of a precious metal. Instead of the supply changing to keep the value the same, the supply is predetermined and the value changes —Satoshi Nakamoto
The first sets of problems that Bitcoin attempts to solve originate from a financial system that is broken in its most foundational aspects. For those not understanding, the problem can be described as having a similar nature (but, of course, different magnitude) to hyperinflation in Weimar Republic and Venezuela. The constant debasement of currencies (even the “mild” 2% inflation we all know about) has a tremendous societal impact, with those who are “close to the money printer” being the only winners—a phenomenon also known as the Cantillon Effect.
Unlike fiat money and commodities, such as gold, Bitcoin’s total supply is capped, which makes it the most scarce store of value in the history of mankind and, therefore, an ideal store of value in the long term.
For all those living in the half of the world that is experiencing double-digit inflation, this is a particularly interesting moment to understand how money printing and currency debasement can affect so many aspects of their lives. In fact, people who have lived through the 70s and those living in countries such as Venezuela, Lebanon, Zimbabwe, Argentina, and Turkey will be more receptive to the idea of Bitcoin as a way to preserve their purchasing power in inflationary environments.
This is arguably one of the most difficult aspects of Bitcoin to understand given the number of assumptions it requires us to challenge (e.g. “controlled inflation is good for the economy” or “fiat currencies are stable”). Yet, it’s arguably the most powerful orange pill that one could take.
2 – Superior Payment Network
Humans have invented the best financial tool in our history, and it’s an exciting time to be alive and use it — Jack Mallers
For the first time in human history, money and a payment network are integrated into one open and global system. Not only can Bitcoin serve as a store of value in the long term as explained above, but it also functions as a global medium of exchange that does not require any third party.
In a few seconds, money can be sent anywhere in the world by only paying a fraction of a cent. Compared to bank transfers, credit cards, and remittances, sending money through Bitcoin is significantly cheaper and faster.
People who don’t like bitcoin as a store of value can just use it as a payment system by converting it to the local currency at the two ends of the transaction. Why do that instead of using legacy systems? Perhaps to quickly send money during earthquakes and wars. Or to bypass remittance companies that take weeks to transfer money and charge up to 10% in fees.
The potential of Bitcoin just as a payment network extends to the most unthinkable areas. Micropayments have the potential to boost the creator economy and or solve the problems that have been haunting social networks.
3 – Freedom Technology
It would be a dark, dark world if Bitcoin didn’t exist — Alex Gladstein
The two previous perspectives address the common criticism that “Bitcoin is useless”. But another common criticism—often paired with the former even though it directly contradicts it—is the fact that (just like cars, computers, and most technologies) Bitcoin is used by criminals.
As crazy as it might sound to many, that’s a feature, not a bug. Because in those instances where it’s ethnicity, religion, sex, or political views that determine whether one is a criminal, having a financial system that cannot be weaponized by the government is one of the best insurance policies you can wish for. That is particularly true for two-thirds of the global population that lives in backsliding democracies or autocratic regimes.
Those who care about freedom and human rights should be paying very close attention to this technology. Bitcoin has already provided lifeline support for individuals in need for over a decade. Wikileaks would have not been able to expose serious violations of human rights and civil liberties without Bitcoin. Similarly, many in North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Hong Kong, Belarus, Nigeria, and Russia also use Bitcoin as a tool to escape the control and government censorship.
As we move away from physical money and the potential for financial surveillance and censorship increases exponentially, the world will greatly benefit an additional set of checks and balances to limit the power of governments and corporations. Understanding this is very important for all those that are active in promoting individual freedom and human rights in the most authoritarian corners of the world.
4 – Energy Buyer Of Last Resort
It is a win-win-win for everybody. It’s a win for the environment and an inarguable win for the economy — Dennis Porter
Lastly, there is a relatively small crowd of people who might be able to appreciate Bitcoin for a very different set of reasons. Bitcoin constitutes an unprecedented opportunity to build a cleaner, more resilient, and more efficient energy infrastructure. Bitcoin can mitigate the problem of intermittency—the demand/supply mismatch that occurs with renewable energy—and help with the $13B problem of congestion of the electric grid in rural areas.
Bitcoin miners can strengthen these grids and incentivize the deployment of more renewable energy by adapting to the fluctuations of power generation schedules since their rigs can be turned off at any moment without notice. Commonly referred to as “energy buyers of last resort”, Bitcoin miners are perfect for Demand Response programs. Last year, Bitcoin miners in Texas “returned up to 1,500 megawatts to the grid, enough to heat over 1.5 million small homes or keep 300 large hospitals fully operational”.
Bitcoin miners are also finding very creative ways to utilize energy that was previously wasted and many are arguing that Bitcoin is “the only available, practical and scalable technology when it comes to tackling the world’s most deadly greenhouse gas: methane.”
There’s (at least) four orange pills, and people don’t need to take them all.
One of the things I learned during my Bitcoin journey is that this is not a mono-functional technology like a washing-machine or an elevator. Because Bitcoin solves many different problems, its perceived value and utility will change significantly depending on who you talk to.
Those living in South Carolina might not care about censorship resistance or privacy as much as the local jobs that are created by a new Bitcoin company. The Turkish population might have not cared about Bitcoin as an inflation hedge (given the country’s situation, it should) during the earthquake earlier this year, but just needed a way to receive money as fast as possible. North Korean defectors like Yeonmi Park are not really interested in how Bitcoin micropayments can support artists online while they are being sold for less than $300 as sex slaves.
Listening and trying to understand who you are talking to is the most important thing you can do when presenting an idea. That is particularly true with Bitcoin, given the negative bias most people have towards it, how complex it is to understand, and how difficult it is to challenge some of the greatest assumptions that most people have.
This simple framework is an attempt to strategically identify the areas of interest of people who are new to Bitcoin and avoid overwhelming them with a big orange pill they might not be ready for.
Instead, by choosing between hard money, payment system, freedom technology, and energy buyer, I am now able to better structure conversations and elevator pitches when engaging with people and answering the usual “Uh! Tell me more about this Bitcoin thing!” question.
So go ahead, choose your orange pill and remember the most important question for Bitcoin is “why would one care about it?”
This is a guest post by Jesse Colzani. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.