Bitcoin is most interesting on an emotional level. Its sheen of technomagic has let uber-rational geeks treat the casino-floor frenzy as a serious technological story. Tech blogs breathlessly track the price of bitcoin. Each new business that accepts bitcoin is heralded with the fanfare of a despot opening his country’s borders to a new, previously outlawed luxury. The drumbeat suggests that getting rich is as simple as being an early adopter.
So many have bought in because the Internet is very good at stoking the fear of missing out. There’s even a trendy acronym, FOMO, to describe the anxiety inspired by scrolling through the social media accounts of people having more fun than you. Bitcoin fosters a particularly potent brand of FOMO. Recently there was the story of the Norwegian 20-something who discovered that his long-forgotten bitcoin, bought for basically nothing, was worth so much that he traded some of it to buy an apartment. Bitcoin holders have taken to posting screenshots of their swollen accounts. I know a guy who bought a few hundred dollars’ worth of bitcoin as a sort of joke years ago. Now he’s made enough to buy a nice car.
All I can say is that the crash is going to be great. Bitcoin is too dependent on speculative mania to be of practical use as a currency. But as a symbol of the misguided dream that one can tap into the global data stream and download riches like a pop song, it’s gold.