Dug Campbell

Coffee and Bitcoin: The Last Few Months

The past few months have been filled up with meetings with an increasing number of people curious to learn more about Bitcoin. It’s been a blast. Most are keen to dig deeper after hearing about Bitcoin one too many times to ignore and they’re intrigued to hear about what’s going on in Scotland, particularly the meetup and the conference.

Usually it involves a chat over a coffee. That tends to give me an hour – minus the usual informalities – during which I focus on explaining in as much detail as I think they need to pique their curiosity (so that they will be hooked into further exploration on their own) whilst constantly striving to resist the temptation of going off down any one of the myriad of fascinating but unecessary rabbit holes that just introduce further complexity and burn through precious time.

I’m still a long way from where I’d like to be. Partly it’s because I constantly find myself aiming for what seems to be the slightly unreasonable outcome at this stage of enabling the other person to be able to walk away fully informed and eager to explain the topic to everyone else. I’m not sure that the mythical 10-minute comprehensive explanation of the technology and its potential really exists.

I find that the main challenge each time comes because you inevitably change the focus of any story to take account of your audience. Sometimes you get this right, sometimes you can be wide of the mark. It’s far less to do with anyone’s intellectual capacity than the simple fact that the concepts can appear to be so alien at first and everyone has their own unique preference when it comes to learning. As a result, you’re forced to make snap-decisions on the hoof about the extent of someone’s background knowledge, their general level of technical awareness, the presumptions that they may or may not hold about the status quo, their view of how the money and the internet works……the list is endless.

Despite all the variables, however, if it’s a coffee with someone that I’ve never met before, I can pretty much guarantee that at some point in the conversation, one question will invariably crop up – either explicitly or within the subtext of another comment. It usually goes along the lines of ‘Why are you doing this?’. Or sometimes it’s even more open: ‘How are you making money from this?’.

I still find this question fascinating. Not because I feel that the other person is in any way bringing up a topic that’s somehow indelicate. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. My fascination comes from the fact that in responding, I hear myself speaking about a subject to a previously unknown person with a passion that I’ve never previously felt, much less displayed, in any other endeavour to date.

I explain that the potential that I see for the technology is overwhelming. That I’ve never before found a subject so challenging yet so rewarding, forcing me as it does to continually re-examine both my existing beliefs and knowledge of a myriad of subjects including business, economics, government, smart law, computer science, programming, cryptography and many more as they continue to reveal themselves to me in greater detail on a daily basis. That the potential is so great for blockchain technologies and yet the development still so early that I simply cannot sit back and ignore the next stage in the evolution of our online world as it unfolds on a daily basis.

That’s not to say that there aren’t flaws in the system that we’re working on at present or that we have somehow arrived collectively at a perfectly-formed solution. Then I explain that, no, I am not getting paid for this, the meetups, meetings and all the rest. It’s simply that I’m not content to watch others struggle to filter through the historically uneven reporting across the mainstream press. Now is the time when we should be drawing together innovators – no matter if they come with the background of being coders, entrepreneurs, business people, UX heroes, philosophers, professional service providers or, frankly, those engaged in any other field. It matters not one bit. We just need the people who understand that what we have is something that can and must be improved.

I am lucky enough to live in a relatively small country which possesses a proud history of innovation and retains a keen sense of its own identity. To me, the answer is quite simple. We are lagging behind when we should have been amongst the first to explore the possibilities that have arisen in the years since Satoshi’s White Paper. Yet the wonder of the open nature of the technology is that we are as well-placed as any to engage now with the challenges at hand. Because, quite simply, whether this great experiment works or not is irrelevant. The reality is that the technology that has been discovered cannot in some way now be un-invented.

Whether I end up leaving the coffee shop with a belief that the conversation was successul or not (i.e. whether I feel that I’ve shared enough information to let the other person to make an honest assessment of the topic for themselves or not), I absolutely love these conversations. The more of them that I can have the better. And whilst they certainly don’t result in direct financial gain in any way, I’ve come to the realisation that the indirect gain is strangely just as valuable to me. And that ‘aha’ moment when you see people ‘get it’ before your eyes is absolutely priceless.

I vividly remember discovering Napster in 2000. As a huge music fan, I’d dabbled playing in bands for a decade or so by that stage. Yet the day that I saw the power of peer-to-peer file sharing, I understood that there had been a fundamental and irreversible change. To fight this was to fight reality. Existing models had to choose whether to evolve or to risk falling by the wayside. We’re seeing the same battlelines drawn here. And just as happened fifteen years or so ago, there’s never a specific tipping point that we can identify in advance. It’s only in retrospect that the winners become clear to those who resisted the technological progress.

What do I think will happen this time? I think we’ll see the full range of responses across industries, from early adopters to dinosaurs. And to me that’s fine. That’s natural and that’s progress. However, what I’m less happy to see is businesses, institutions, governments and – crucially – individuals miss the opportunity to get engaged and have a role in driving such inevitable innovations simply because they were somehow unaware that change was afoot.

I don’t hold myself out to be an expert. Not by any means. I’m not sure how many experts we truly have in an industry that is just over six years old in any event. But for those that have the same question in the future, that’s the reason why I’m organising meetups, speaking at as many events as possible, running a conference and generally working harder than I’ve ever done in my life to bring people together for no material gain.

Because I think this time, above all, this is something that really matters. To all of us – and not simply those who share my love of caffeine.

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