The invisible use case that should define the crypto movement

The invisible use case that should define the crypto movement
  • The image of cryptocurrency tends to focus on privilege and flaunted wealth.
  • Financial institutions dismiss Bitcoin as a fad, while exploiting the benefits of the underlying technology for themselves.
  • But the story in developing countries paints a different picture – one of vast potential.

In 2018, The New York Times published a comprehensive expose on the burgeoning crypto movement that detailed the luxurious lives of the newly crypto rich. The article, aptly titled, "Everyone is Getting Hilariously Rich and You're Not" is emblematic of the coverage that often typecasts crypto enthusiasts as amateur wealth connoisseurs.

It's a common storyline about crypto diehards that is imminently popular because of the ostentatious numbers and the perceived greed of the whole thing. For example, when Ripple surged in value by more than 1,240% in a month, the headlines often reported on the company's CEO, Chris Larsen, who briefly became richer than Mark Zuckerberg.

The notion that a few people, 4.11% of Bitcoin owners to be exact, are becoming incredibly wealthy from the crypto movement only perpetuate the idea that cryptocurrencies are about becoming fabulously wealthy.

Of course, this penchant for discussing privilege has created a limiting narrative that propels skepticism about the transformative potential found in cryptocurrencies.

More specifically, continuing narratives about the culture of privilege surrounding cryptocurrencies is a distraction from what should define the primary use case for the crypto movement.

The skepticism of financial institutions

While traditional financial institutions are happy to benefit from Bitcoin in the form of derivatives contracts bought and sold through their institutions, they are continually dismissive of the crypto movement.

Most famously, JP Morgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, described Bitcoin as a "fraud," adding that it's a good option for murderers and drug dealers.

Meanwhile, Bill Harris, the former CEO of PayPal, described Bitcoin as "a colossal pump-and-dump scheme...best suited for one use: criminal activity." Similarly, billionaire Charles Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, explained that he "detested it the moment it was raised."

Moreover, Bank of America has expressed continual incredulity about crypto's underlying technology, the blockchain, even as they rack up the most patents for the technology.

To be sure, financial institutions have every reason to prevent the proliferation of cryptocurrencies. Not only do they circumvent their once-unchallenged grip on the monetary system, but these institutions, and those who run them, have little use for an alternative to the existing financial infrastructure.

Simply put, the incredulity the financial elites feel is self-serving at best. Not only do they sit in powerful positions that prop up their privilege, but their access to vast financial resources encourages them to be dismissive of a new asset class that serves less well-positioned people.

Creating Financial Inclusion

With all this noise, an important expression of the crypto movement is struggling to breakthrough. For some, cryptocurrencies are just a modern way for a few people to become incredibly wealthy, while others see it as a threat to their business model and bottom line.

However, for many others, cryptocurrencies are a savior, a crucial way of exchanging value in turbulent and unstable situations. In between the headlines and hot takes, cryptocurrencies are making a real difference in the lives of the unbanked, those living in developing countries, and those impacted by geopolitical turmoil.

While Facebook's highly touted Libra is yet unproven, the purpose is right on the mark. The currency is targeting the worlds' 1.7 billion adults who don't have access to the financial system. In the US alone, 25% of the population is considered unbanked, meaning that there is a significant need for a better option.

Therefore, tech titan IBM notes, "we have reached a tipping point in the banking industry where our relationships with banks and how they extract value from us is going to be transformed."

For a lot of people, that transformation is already taking place. In Venezuela, where the national currency's annual inflation rate is 1.7 million percent, cryptocurrencies are allowing people to buy things like food, milk, and housing. As Venezuelan economist, Carlos Hernández, wrote in a Times op-ed, "'Borderless money' is more than a buzzword when you live in a collapsing economy and a collapsing dictatorship."

Indeed, cryptocurrencies effectively combat inflation, corruption, and high remittance costs. With cryptocurrencies, people aren't dependent on financial elites or established organizations to provide relief or opportunity. They can create this for themselves.

Creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs

Beyond the use case of blockchain as cryptocurrencies, the open, censorship-resistant nature of the technology has fostered a startup culture that's positively buzzing with innovation, the benefit of which isn't just limited to wealthy hubs like San Francisco and Singapore.

For example, Matic Network is an Indian company that is rapidly becoming the base protocol of India with its fast, scalable second-layer solution for Ethereum. Whereas Ethereum has struggled to scale beyond around 15 transactions per second, Matic uses side-chain technology to scale up to 65,000 transactions per second.

The company has already established partnerships with well-known names in the blockchain space, including Binance and Coinbase Ventures. As a development platform, Matic provides ready-made infrastructure to help kickstart the Indian blockchain startup scene, encouraging tech entrepreneurs to bring their applications to life

Despite its status as a developing country, India has long been the IT outsourcing hub of choice for companies the world over and contains a wealth of programming talent.

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Open source, shared benefits

For the many people who won't become Bitcoin millionaires and who aren't members of the financial elite, cryptocurrencies and blockchain are becoming a vital resource that levels the playing field, inviting total participation in a trustless economy that has a place for everyone. Furthermore, the low barrier to entry for building blockchain-based applications offers the potential to open new channels for entrepreneurship in developing countries.

CT scans of shark intestines find Nikola Tesla’s one-way valve

Evolution proves to be just about as ingenious as Nikola Tesla

Credit: Gerald Schömbs / Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • For the first time, scientists developed 3D scans of shark intestines to learn how they digest what they eat.
  • The scans reveal an intestinal structure that looks awfully familiar — it looks like a Tesla valve.
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Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.

LIAM SATCHELL UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER

"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.

JASON FEIFER HOST OF BUILD FOR TOMORROW

There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

Why the U.S. and Belgium are culture buddies

The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural map replaces geographic accuracy with closeness in terms of values.

According to the latest version of the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map, Belgium and the United States are now each other's closest neighbors in terms of cultural values.

Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Strange Maps
  • This map replaces geography with another type of closeness: cultural values.
  • Although the groups it depicts have familiar names, their shapes are not.
  • The map makes for strange bedfellows: Brazil next to South Africa and Belgium neighboring the U.S.
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