Cryptocurrency and Mainstream Messaging

Blockchain, cryptocurrency, and digital asset enthusiasts and professionals are passionate about spreading their news and sharing their beliefs. Whether they’re bitcoin maximalists, altcoin miners, tokenization experts, or distributed app builders, they want to educate, inform, and persuade. Sometimes, they inspire new people to engage with our growing industry, but other times they scare off their prospects. Why is this? In short, sometimes the best way to share news is to not share all of the news.  

In most industries, the vocabulary of the mainstream differs from the vocabulary of the industry. So, for example, typical drivers want to know if a car is fuel-efficient and pleasant to drive, while gearheads want to know about injection systems, engine make, and chassis design. And when Apple announces a new iteration of the MacBook, a mainstream journalist might emphasize its improved camera, superior keyboard, and sleeker design. The techier readers and trade publications won’t ignore these improvements, but they may show more interest in the new chip running under the steel casing or tweaks to the USB-C ports.

Contemporary life is inconceivable without the internet, but twenty-five years ago, it was a novelty. The first people to connect made huge claims for the internet, but their claims were met with the same frequent indifference and occasional hostility that blockchain enthusiasts meet today. Did the pioneers of the internet devote their time and energy to long explanations of 28K modem technology, the superiority of the Netscape browser, or the subtleties of HTML? No. Instead, they found simple analogies and comparisons that made a far more persuasive case for its potential. New users could understand “information superhighway” and “electronic mail.” Everyone uses the internet; most people don’t code. 

What does this mean for cryptocurrency and digital assets? It doesn’t mean that technical information — sharding, governance, consensus, atomic swapping, hashrate, and the rest — should be hidden away or ignored. It is vital information, and any project that hides it will draw suspicion and opprobrium. Developers, programmers, and blockchain enthusiasts are not most projects’ sole targets, and so projects should make sure that they can speak to the laypeople who constitute the mainstream. To take just one example, when Facebook announced Libra this summer, the mainstream press paid attention because Mark Zuckerberg proposed creating a new form of money. Details of Facebook’s whitepaper, like the Libra Association and the Swiss-based Calibra subsidiary, were not the essence of the story to typical news readers. 

As blockchain grows more familiar and more influential, the broad “non-tech” public will become fluent in the technology. No one speaks about information superhighways anymore, because everyone knows what the internet is: No analogies are required. Computer terms that might have been esoteric thirty years ago — hard drive, processor, motherboard, RAM — no longer mystify or confuse. Blockchain and digital assets will soon be as commonplace as the internet, but until it is, industry leaders should take care to know their audiences. You can’t ignore enthusiasts and you must pay attention to the average citizen.

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