Over the last year since we opened the New York Bitcoin Center, down the street from the New York Stock Exchange, I’ve appeared in over 200 local, national, and international media sources.
Paradoxically, in this era of electronic trading, we run a very much in demand open outcry Bitcoin pit. I serve as the Head Market Maker, simply reporting market conditions much like I reported market conditions on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade fifteen years age. This moment in history in which electronic currency is preferably traded publicly and face-to-face was captured in a Morgan Spurlock documentary on CNN that just premiered, turning the spotlight on Bitcoin once again.
The flash of the spotlight can be a lot of fun. That flash is also far removed from what matters in technology.
Steve Jobs delivered plenty of flash in his famous presentations, but the nerdy technological details are what mattered, and it can be hard to see flash in the years of meticulous drudgery that are required for innovations to be realized.
So used to calling horse races, presidential elections, and everything in between, the media has a hard time reporting on the vital role played by taking the long view in technology.
For nearly a decade smartphones ranging from IBM’s brick-like Simon (1991) to Nokia’s clamshell design 9000 Communicator (1994) tried to break onto the scene and generate mass appeal before the Kyocera QCP 6035 saw some success in 2001 and the game changing iPhone came along in 2007. It took nearly 20 years for smartphone technology to become a market standard and for other players like Samsung, Lenovo, LG, HTC, Sony, Nexus, and Xiaomi to emerge prominently on the scene. Half of those titan manufacturers may not even exist a decade from now and may sound as unfamiliar then as the IBM Simon does today.
Apple, seen by some as “first to market” in that contest emerged only after a 16 year battle of companies trying to break out with this technology, a breakout that itself came about 35 years after the first smartphone patents combining computing and telephony were filed. Thirty-five years is a long time.
The Internet has seen a similarly tumultuous ebb and flow. Brands like AltaVista, GeoCities, Netscape Navigator, once powerhouses, are meaningless today. Formerly cutting edge brands like Nupedia, Webvan, Beenz, Pets.com, Napster, and SixDegrees are now long gone. These products and companies capitalized on an early push for innovation and the sudden capital infusion accompanying the push. That was before the dot com bubble burst and the Internet spent nearly a decade in a state of disrepute with the utter lack of sexiness that deservedly accompanies meticulous technological work, as well as being tainted by the popularly perceived scaminess to the term “dot com.”
The Stamford, Connecticut based Gartner Consulting describes this phenomena through it’s “Hype Cycle” theory: a technology comes onto the scene with a spark, early adopters step in, the technology appears to boom, large hype-filled promises are made that fail to be delivered on, early adopters run out of energy, disillusion ensues, and in time, through methodical and focussed effort, the technology finally begins to deliver some of its promised results. Few early adopters realize how slowly lasting technologies catch on.
Without taking a long view of tech it can be hard to make sense of innovations in the world. Bitcoin aficionados (the early adopters and evangelists), can be as guilty of this as anyone. They might baselessly claim that Bitcoin will see a $10,000/Bitcoin year, either because the person truly believes that, or because someone said it they are thoughtlessly repeating it. Bitcoin might be called “an amazing investment” by some advocates, but in a time where a safe double digit return is obtainable in the equities markets, Bitcoin falls short. At the same time the news trumpets its fall and its demise is often warned about. This is much like the many articles that used to simultaneously run about the hype or demise of the Internet. It’s hard to get a spin-free honest appraisal of the potential of new technologies.
Behind the hype and doom about Bitcoin are some revolutionary technological concepts that will upturn the financial industry as we know it and will cause us to see money differently forever. That might be a few years from now or a few decades from now, and it won’t be until Bitcoin-related technologies have developed greater tenacity, increased utility, and proven the ability. In doing so, the underlying Bitcoin and blockchain technologies will come to appear more trustworthy. As long as one sees technology with a long enough timeline, glitches in a technology are no cause for alarm.
Glitches are opportunities. For every problem in the Bitcoin space there is a entrepreneur with the chance to become a “Bitcoin billionaire.” That’s why we at the Bitcoin Center in addition to being a gathering place for traders, focus on incubating new technologies.
The future of Bitcoin is in the technology, not a silly little U.S. Dollar/Bitcoin chart. My long view tells me what a fantastic world it will be when that technology comes to be widely adapted.
Bitcoin is one product that is part of a larger concept of cryptocurrencies, just like the iPhone is part of a larger concept of smartphones. There will be a time when that concept becomes mainstream. The technology underlying Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are such dramatic improvements over what we currently have in place that one day five, ten, twenty, maybe even fifty years from now they will be central to our lives just as naturally as the smart phone is today.
No hastily written headline about Bitcoin trading at lows of $200 or highs of $1,200 can change that important underlying fact. The flash means little. The boring complexities of crypto currencies that promise to make life easier are part of the bright bold future ahead.
Allan Stevo (@AllanStevo) is a founding member of the New York Bitcoin Center and sits on the board of the World Bitcoin Association.