May you live in interesting times… and have the wits to recognize it

If you are 100 or older, you have been around since before modern automobiles were commonplace.

If you are 50 or older, you have been around since before humans walked on the moon.

If you are 30 or older, you have been around longer than video games (most of them anyway).

If you are 20 or older, you have been around longer than the cell phone was popular.

There are grey areas regarding the exact dates when these technologies emerged, yes. But the point remains: We live in interesting times.

What might not occur to everybody, however, is that in geological terms, we are in the midst of a flash bang of technology. Many authors and futurists from Arthur C Clarke to Ray Kurzweil have spoken at length of accelerations in technology – hockey sticks, which are at or near their inflection points, from which further advancements snowball until the world becomes virtually unrecognizable… and recognizably virtual.

And yet, for all the incredible advancements of the past few decades, humans remain oddly… unimpressed. Rather than gawking out the airplane window, marveling at how a steel tube can fly at 600 miles per hour through the sky without killing every passenger on board, we complain about the seat, or the food, or the service.

We are all guilty of this odd complacency. Maybe it’s some sort of prehistoric adaptive trait for humans to quickly take things for granted. Even so, sometimes circumstances give us the chance to catch a glimmer of how magical a world we live in.

For instance, between 2006 and 2008, I was literally off the grid, sailing a 43-foot boat across the seas while writing educational articles for school children. When I returned, broke and malnourished, I was shocked to see people casually accessing full web pages on their phones. Before I left, there were some WAP enabled phones, but nothing like these sleek fancy full-screened buttonless beauties! People had the internet on their phones. People had the internet on their phones! For at least 5 minutes I felt as if I had been teleported into the future. Of course once that feeling wore off, I joined in with the others, complaining about trivialities such as loading time and icon design.

People of earth, your money is getting an upgrade. But there is a risk that you won’t even notice once it has happened. Bitcoin increased in value about 100x last year, and the new normal is now high 3 figures for a single bitcoin. To many, this change doesn’t feel monumental – it feels incremental. Even detractors dismiss the run-up as a faddy mania with no underlying fundamentals.

Perhaps our collective ability to get used to change is accelerating as well, matching the speed of technological advance. Maybe it doesn’t take more, but more faster to get our attention and raise our eyebrows. Recently, I attended the North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami, and had the pleasure of posing the final question to Roger Ver (Bitcoin Jesus) after his presentation. I pointed out that we were somewhat “ahead of schedule” with Bitcoin’s progress compared to what we thought possible only 3 years ago – and from that vantage point, how would he define the “ultimate Bitcoin success?”

He assured me later that his answer was off the cuff, but I found it thoroughly convincing. His response was, to paraphrase: that so many battles are fought due to the simple fact that they can be funded, and so many wars are funded due to the simple fact that the state controls the money supply, and can thereby skim wealth from its citizens to pay for destruction, death, and harm. In a world where people use Bitcoin, the state is limited in the amount it can unilaterally expropriate, and it then follows that on some level, Bitcoin can bring greater peace to humanity.

Believe me, I know how the claim that “Bitcoin can create peace on earth” sounds a bit naive. But that wasn’t what Roger was saying. He was describing some of the superlative potential of Bitcoin, which could come to pass given the proper conditions, and even then, probably incrementally.

However, I get immense satisfaction in knowing that a tool such as Bitcoin really could make a large-scale difference – quickly too. But my question is whether it can outrun the zippy pace of our own indifference. Bitcoin might change the world, in more ways than we can imagine. But will we even notice?

I hope so. But for an interesting experiment, I encourage people to live under a rock for a few years, then come back and tell us what we’re missing. We live in interesting times, so let’s take a minute to stop and look around once in a while.