While attending the Inside Bitcoin conference this past week in Las Vegas, Nevada, I noticed the many parallels between the Bitcoin and libertarian communities. Besides the actual overlap of individuals between the two, especially the many techno-libertarians who adopted early, there existed a libertarian spirit: independent, tech-savvy, and exceptionally smart.
It felt familiar and reminded me of libertarian events. However, it also raised my expectation that the Bitcoin community will fall into the same socially awkward communication mistakes as the libertarian movement.
During the networking reception, as I stood off to the side, texting some friends that I was trying to locate, some guy came up to me and chatted me up. He addressed me by my first name, which surprised me, until I remembered that it was on my conference badge. Slick.
Making small talk, I asked his thoughts about the conference, and how it compared to others he had attended. He wasn’t too impressed.
In contrast, I was enjoying everything about it, absorbing so much information and craving even more. Being new to Bitcoin, I admitted that, at the talk about the future of Bitcoin mining, some of it went over my head.
He felt that Bitcoin conferences should presuppose a certain knowledge, not cater to newbies.
“So shame on you for not doing your research,” he said.
Actually, I did go out of my way to read up about Bitcoin, because I knew it wouldn’t be “Bitcoin 101.” But it’s kind of a rabbit hole, and I had to prioritize what information I would study, based on what seemed most relevant to me. So forgive me for not knowing about genesis block.
“OK, nice meeting you.” Yeah, I lied, but needed a graceful way to make an exit.
I just walked away. Of course, I had to immediately announce my annoyance to my “therapists” — Twitter and Facebook. While I meandered through the crowd, staring down at my phone, I looked up and saw him again, coincidentally, ugh! Awkward.
He joked that I was following him, and I suppressed the smart ass remarks I could’ve made, and kept walking.
This exchange reminded me of my early days of exploring libertarianism. Some libertarians salivate over any opportunity to prove someone wrong or show off their knowledge. Newbies provide ample opportunity for this.
The libertarian movement used to be like that, and it is still recovering.
I don’t want to reduce this to an argument about sexism, but gender did probably play a role. If you’re a woman at a Bitcoin conference, similar to a libertarian gathering, you’re going to stand out and maybe receive extra scrutiny of your knowledge and beliefs.
I haven’t mastered the finer points of Bitcoin mining; that’s true. In fact there’s still much about Bitcoin that I don’t get. That’s partly why I’ve been hesitant to put my money into it, and that’s partly why I was there — to expand my knowledge.
Fortunately, these days there seems to be more of an effort to teach libertarians how to effectively communicate without insulting. There’s more talk about obviating the problem that newcomers resist the message when established libertarians make them feel stupid or, my favorite, like they are not “real” libertarians. (“Go read more Rothbard,” as if anarcho-capitalism is the only way to be libertarian.)
Similarly, the Bitcoin community will need to educate an increasing number of newcomers. And the Bitcoin crowd is changing: more venture capitalists, more women, and more regular folks.
The Bitcoin community needs these regular folks to understand how it works. Regulation is just around the corner, and it will be driven by fear and written by people who don’t understand it. The more people that get it, the better chance we will have of avoiding onerous regulation.
These high-IQ folks might want to recognize the benefit of polishing up their social skills, improving their attitude toward newcomers, and fostering an educational enviroment.