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Understanding the last three-year cryptocurrency rollercoaster
The global financial system is under an increasing amount of pressure to get with the times and evolve to the needs of its customers. Crises like the 2008 housing bubble's collapse, and failing currencies in places like Venezuela and Zimbabwe saw people looking for alternatives to traditional banking and financial systems.
Many people turned to Bitcoin as a solution, liking its ability to be used as an international payment system without involving third parties or governments.
Although Bitcoin has gained momentum primarily in the last three years, due to mass media and public attention, it's been around for over a decade.
Back in 2010 - 2014 cryptocurrencies were not well known and their primary reported use was as a tool for buying guns and drugs on the dark web.
Soon, innovators and techies saw the potential in cryptocurrency not just as a tool for the tax evader and shady buyer, but also as one which could benefit users with fast, stable transference of value.
The general public realized there was nothing to fear from Bitcoin, and people from all walks of life, fed up with the system, as well as with banks and high fees, started doing their own research. Once individuals started taking an interest, cryptocurrencies were on the rise.
It was the massive spike in interest and public awareness that forced banks, governments, and companies on the scale of IBM, Microsoft and Amazon to look into digital currencies and their underlying technology. These last three years have laid a fascinating foundation for what could be the future of money.
Piquing Mainstream Interest
Around three years ago news about early miners and investors seeing their thousands of accumulated Bitcoins turning into millions of dollars started cropping up as the price grew steadily.
Overnight millionaires were popping up everywhere as the price of Bitcoin rose to $1,000. Suddenly, Bitcoin was being bought by amateurs, and by investors seeing a chance at achieving the getting-rich-quick dream.
Bitcoin was easy to get, easy to trade, and seemed like a good option to make money as the interest in the digital coin was making the price bubble upwards. It took Bitcoin less than a year to 20x its value through 2017 - which should have been a warning sign to any cautious investor.
With all the hype, initial coin offerings (IPOs with cryptocurrency) started popping up everywhere. Blockchain companies would create a token for their business and then put it to market for investors to buy up in the hopes of making massive returns on their investment.
On the one hand, ICOs disrupted the venture capital model in a way not seen before, with companies able to fund their venture within minutes, hours and days beyond their expectations and without all the regulation traditional companies experienced. They had the opportunity to self-fund with thousands of investors around the world, eager to invest in the cryptocurrency gold rush.
On the other hand, however, the space became packed with scammers and amateurs eager to grab at the opportunity for funds in the unregulated space, often with no intention of paying back their investors in any way. People were throwing money at the flimsiest of projects, not doing their due diligence and with little knowledge of the company's model for success. In the past few years many ICOs, some of which raised millions in capital have failed, taking the money with them while others were purpose-built scams.
The predominance of blockchain
The hype caused a bubble that quickly popped and, from $20,000 Bitcoin dropped to lows of $3,000 in 2018 kicking off a long bear market, and burning many speculative investors.
The bear market made many newcomers back off, some leaving the market altogether and some holding on to a few Bitcoins in the hope it would turn. The bear market was bad for many of those who invested, but was on the whole a good thing for cryptocurrency as it caused people to stop using Bitcoin as the speculative asset it was never intended to be.
With fewer people crowding the space, enterprises and regulators were able to enter and focus on what they found to be most important about the cryptocurrency, it's underlying technology, blockchain.
Suddenly, IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, and others were building blockchain divisions. Banks, who once laughed at the ecosystem, were now hiring blockchain engineers, adding incredible legitimacy to the space.
Regulators now saw that blockchain, and digital tokens had a lot of value and could be separated from the scams and hacks often seen in the ICO markets. Regulators wanted to work with the technology and businesses wanted to leverage it for their systems.
The second coming
Having taken a massive hit through 2018, the cryptocurrency market started relying on the legitimacy that its technology - blockchain - had gained. Suddenly, after mostly losing gains, a few cryptocurrencies began gaining momentum in early 2019.
Soon, positive news about the cryptocurrency market saw the public's interest return - only this time, the interest was based on more than speculation, it was backed by big institutionalized money.
The media started labeling the first quarter of 2019 as the 'Cryptocurrency Spring' which excited investors as well as businesses. People had predicted that an institutional buy-in would propel the space once again, and it looks like 2019 is becoming the year for enterprises exploration of cryptocurrencies.
Eyal Hertzog, Co-founder and Product Architect of Bancor and long time cryptocurrency enthusiast talks about his predictions for the future of cryptocurrencies:
"Cryptocurrencies as we know them today are only the tip of the iceberg. In the future, we'll see tokens for everything from artists and artwork, to neighborhoods, charities, startups and more, creating new network models and embedding localized incentive structures into online and offline communities across the globe,".
"Right now, the Libra project represents a watershed moment as Facebook, one of the largest corporations in the world, has entered the fray along with giants like eBay, PayPal and Visa."
Bitcoin has now passed the $12000 mark and is showing no signs of slowing down in its return to the good graces of the public.
Hopefully, with regulation on the way and legitimate establishments at the helm this time around, the crypto market will become a steadier, more reliable space for real companies and new technologies to flourish, bringing transactions into the 22nd century and changing the financial systems we use for the better.
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
While not the first such minister, the loneliness epidemic in Japan will make this one the hardest working.
- The Japanese government has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to implement policies designed to fight isolation and lower suicide rates.
- They are the second country, after the U.K., to dedicate a cabinet member to the task.
- While Japan is famous for how its loneliness epidemic manifests, it isn't alone in having one.
The Ministry of Loneliness<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I5FIohjZT8o" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p><a href="https://www.jimin.jp/english/profile/members/114749.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tetsushi Sakamoto</a>, already in the government as the minister in charge of raising Japan's low birthrate and revitalizing regional economies, was appointed this <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">month</a> to the additional role. He has already announced plans for an emergency national forum to discuss the issue and share the testimony of lonely <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/12/national/loneliness-isolation-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">individuals</a>.</p><p>Given the complexity of the problem, the minister will primarily oversee the coordination of efforts between different <a href="https://www.insider.com/japan-minister-of-loneliness-suicides-rise-pandemic-2021-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ministries</a> that hope to address the issue alongside a task <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">force</a>. He steps into his role not a moment too soon. The loneliness epidemic in Japan is uniquely well known around the world.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Hikikomori</em></a><em>,</em> often translated as "acute social withdrawal," is the phenomenon of people completely withdrawing from society for months or years at a time and living as modern-day hermits. While cases exist in many <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00247/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>, the problem is better known and more prevalent in Japan. Estimates vary, but some suggest that one million Japanese live like this and that 1.5 million more are at <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/article/japan-hikikomori-isolation-society" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">risk</a> of developing the condition. Individuals practicing this hermitage often express contentment with their isolation at first before encountering severe symptoms of loneliness and <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200110155241.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">distress</a>.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodokushi" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Kodokushi</em></a>, the phenomenon of the elderly dying alone and remaining undiscovered for some time due to their isolation, is also a widespread issue in Japan that has attracted national attention for decades.</p><p>These are just the most shocking elements of the loneliness crisis. As we've discussed before, loneliness can cause health issues akin to <a href="https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/americas-loneliness-epidemic-is-more-lethal-than-smoking-heres-what-you-can-do-to-combat-isolation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">smoking</a>. A lack of interaction within a community can cause social <a href="https://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/how-religious-neighbors-are-better-neighbors" target="_self">problems</a>. It is even associated with changes in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/loneliness-brain" target="_self">brain</a>. While there is nothing wrong with wanting a little time to yourself, the inability to get the socialization that many people need is a real problem with real <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/brain-loneliness-hunger" target="_self">consequences</a>.</p>
The virus that broke the camel's back<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hp-L844-5k8" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> A global loneliness pandemic existed before COVID-19, and the two working in tandem has been catastrophic. </p><p>Japanese society has always placed a value on solitude, often associating it with self-reliance, which makes dealing with the problem of excessive solitude more difficult. Before the pandemic, 16.1 percent of Japanese seniors reported having nobody to turn to in a time of need, the highest rate of any nation <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">considered</a>. Seventeen percent of Japanese men surveyed in 2005 said that they "rarely or never spend time with friends, colleagues, or others in social groups." This was three times the average rate of other <a href="http://www.oecd.org/sdd/37964677.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>. </p><p>American individualism also creates a fertile environment for isolation to grow. About a month before the pandemic started, nearly<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/23/798676465/most-americans-are-lonely-and-our-workplace-culture-may-not-be-helping" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> 3 in 5</a> Americans reported being lonely in a <a href="https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> issued by Cigna. This is a slight increase over previous studies, which had been pointing in the same direction for years. </p><p>In the United Kingdom, the problem prompted the creation of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The commission's <a href="https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/active-communities/rb_dec17_jocox_commission_finalreport.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">final report </a>paints a stark picture of the U.K.'s situation in 2017, with millions of people from all parts of British society reporting feeling regular loneliness at a tremendous cost to personal health, society, and the economy.</p><p>The report called for a lead minister to address the problem at the national level, incorporating government action with the insights provided by volunteer organizations, businesses, the NHS, and other organizations on the crisis's front lines. Her Majesty's Government acted on the report and appointed the first Minister for Loneliness in <a href="https://time.com/5248016/tracey-crouch-uk-loneliness-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2018</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracey_Crouch" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tracey Crouch</a>, and dedicated millions of pounds to battling the problem. </p><p>The distancing procedures necessitated by the COVID-19 epidemic saved many lives but exacerbated an existing problem of loneliness in many parts of the world. While the issue had received attention before, Japan's steps to address the situation suggest that people are now willing to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.</p><p>--</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. The suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.</em></p>
MIT professor Azra Akšamija creates works of cultural resilience in the face of social conflict.