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Stop Calling Bitcoin a “Community”

Bitcoin is a revolutionary technology as the world’s first completely decentralized peer-to-peer payment network. As millions of people around the world pour billions of dollars into Bitcoin, everyone from rural subsistence farmers to swamp-dwelling policymakers increasingly take note.

While Bitcoin matures, hordes of pundits, bloggers, and journalists perpetually reference a “Bitcoin community” responsible for the challenges, changes and successes of Bitcoin.

But there is no Bitcoin community.

One could be forgiven for not readily understanding why there is no Bitcoin community because the notion is surprisingly easy to accept and justify.

That Bitcoin is a “network” probably encourages the inaccurate characterization of community. And stereotypically nerdy and often eclectic technology or economics wonks who first used Bitcoin are also easy to treat as a “them” who all know and associate or communicate with each other. Lumping every Bitcoin adopter into a singular, cohesive social unit in this way conveniences eager commentators armed with keyboards, hot takes and shallow understandings of Bitcoin.

That a medium of exchange is a currency only after it enjoys widespread adoption also fuels the idea of a Bitcoin community. Every Bitcoin adopter is a member of some scrappy, underdog community that works together to bootstrap the world’s first disintermediated cryptographic medium of exchange into a dominant global currency.

But the Bitcoin community is a patent misnomer.

Knowing what a community is informs the understanding that Bitcoin is not one.

Arts and Humanities professor Roger Vajda shares his thoughts on community in a few hundred words. And agrarian poet and essayist Wendell Berry offers important commentary on true community in his essay “The Loss of the Future“.

Without considering the issue too philosophically, however, it needs little justification that shared interests, similar activities, and physical (or virtual) proximity are not sufficient requisites for community. Asking exactly what community is probably receives the same response that Saint Augustine gives to the question, “What is time?

But technology is not community.

To this point, Dr. Saifedean Ammous recently wrote on Twitter, “Bitcoin is a technology and individuals are free to use it as they please.” There is no “microwave community” or “iPad community,” for instance.

Of course Bitcoin adopters do build communities. But the difference between a Bitcoin community and the “Bitcoin community” is not trivial or semantic.

Developers, miners, investors, venture capitalists, academics and “shit-posters” build communities on Telegram channels, in Facebook groups and through meet-ups.

As the world’s most entertaining Bitcoin podcast, YMB works to build a community around Bitcoin, liberty and humor. (Follow Tim Baker and Dan Brown to learn more.) Also, a growing group of carnivorous Bitcoin-lovers is a perfect example of a Bitcoin community. (Follow Saifedean Ammous and Michael Goldstein to learn more.)

But the often-referenced Bitcoin community does not exist; there simply is no such thing.

Accordingly, there are no civil wars, inviolable tenants, religious parallels, threatening drama, or toxic animosity in the Bitcoin community. There is only Bitcoin.

Communities built around Bitcoin represent importantly divergent conceptions of and visions for the technology. But any statements that reference “the Bitcoin community” are undeserving of serious consideration.

A “Bitcoin community” is no different than an obviously non-existent “microprocessor community” or “combustion engine community”. And that participants in this decentralized payment network are a community is no more true than everyone with a telephone in the 1880s or an email address in the 1980s were communities too.

Merely using Bitcoin does not a community make. Stop pretending it does.

This article was inspired by a tweet from Saifedean Ammous on November 22, 2017.

Follow @zackvoell on Twitter.

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