While I was having a late lunch today I overheard a couple — a girl and a guy — talking about Bitcoin at the table next to me. The man was working as a bartender and had no idea what the blockchain was. I don’t know what the girl did for a living, but when asked about it she made a very good argument about how Bitcoin was digital money that couldn’t be double spent, how it was possible to pay (almost) instantly and even how the blockchain could be used to assert copyright and make it easier for musicians to accept payment while avoiding intermediaries.
It was at this moment that I did something I very rarely do: I took a deep breath and interrupted a person I didn’t know. I intruded on a conversation, asking for a couple of minutes of the couple’s time to explain what Bitcoin is really about.
The girl was totally correct in everything she was saying (and I began by telling her this), yet the way she talked about Bitcoin was totally wrong (but I did not use these exact words).
If you need to explain how Bitcoin works to a friend or a relative who doesn’t know anything about it and begin by talking about blockchain immutability and double spend resistance, I guarantee you they will come away with very little of how Bitcoin relates to them.
Solving the double spending problem the way Satoshi Nakamoto did was pure genius, no question about it. The cryptography mechanisms that protect the blockchain against forgery are elegant and beautiful. But the solution to the double spending problem alone is not something regular people will even perceive as a problem, because in our present reality we hardly have to worry about double spending anyway.
Advertising Bitcoin’s immunity against forgery or double spending is similar to trying to explain how money works by delving into the details of contemporary bank note printing, special paper and ink types, or UV protection.
Let’s try and do a better job introducing Bitcoin to the masses, shall we?
Bitcoin and Inflation
In order to make non-technical people understand the value of Bitcoin, you should always start with banks, government and inflation (or perhaps, start with inflation, and go on to remind them how banks and government benefit from it). Chances are, everybody who you meet will know what inflation is, and that it is evil. It is also quite certain they will know that governments and central banks cause inflation, even if they don’t know exactly how this happens.
The first thing you should explain is that Bitcoin has limited supply and that nobody can create more coins from thin air. I know it, because I saw the understanding in that bartender’s eyes as soon as I said that. By stressing that no bank or government can destroy your savings by printing more money to cover their own loans, you will have anybody’s undivided attention.
Bitcoin and Censorship
Once they listen to you, you can explain how nobody can take your bitcoins away from you; and how you and I can transact without requiring permission from banks or governments. When you mention how ‘your money in the bank is actually not your money’, you will get another flash of recognition — I know I did — because again, everybody knows how banks protect themselves from bank runs and how you may not be able to get back the money you deposited.
Bitcoin and Gold
At this point, you can make a point about the similarities between Bitcoin and gold, and how owning bitcoins is better than owning gold, because throughout history governments are known to have confiscated gold, but that they cannot take from you the keys to your Bitcoin wallet (assuming you live in a country where human rights are respected…)
Only after you have established that Bitcoin is inflation- and censorship-free will it make sense to explain to people the technical stuff that protects against double spending. I guarantee at this point they will want to know this, because you’ve made three bold claims they will want proven.
Saifedean Ammous gets this, and makes the strongest argument for Bitcoin for the common man. His book ‘The Bitcoin Standard‘ does not expect his readers to be technical the way Andreas Antonopoulos (‘Mastering Bitcoin‘), Rich Apodaca (‘Owning Bitcoin‘) or Bruce Kleinman (‘The Bitcoin Tutorial‘) do.
Make it a Good Story
We are still very early on this journey. The best we can do is spread the word. And it really helps if we match our words with our audience. Don’t make Bitcoin about spending. Make Bitcoin about people.
I leave you with this classic clip from All Things Digital where Bill Gates begins to tell a story in his usual dorkish way only to get interrupted by an irritated Steve Jobs.
‘Let me tell you the story…’