Bitcoin’s Path

Blockchain technology was designed to thwart big institutions. Now the likes of Facebook and Twitter are co-opting it

Early in this decade, had I possessed the foresight, I might have set up my home computer as a bitcoin miner and reaped healthy rewards. The key was openness. Bitcoin wasn’t worth all that much then, but anyone could do it. The underlying technology, blockchain, seemed to make sure of that, by eliminating the need for intermediaries. The platform would maintain our independence, our state of decentralization.

Then bitcoin went the way of gold. Why? Because it started making people rich.

With more miners competing, mining got more expensive. Higher demand for electricity meant you needed more efficient servers to yield a profit and, soon, economies of scale. Corporations took an interest. Today mining farms are a massive, government-subsidized business. Bitcoin, in turn, became a financial instrument. The banks invested, along with the pension funds. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission declared it a commodity, just like gold. How do you get bitcoin these days? When I bought a tiny fraction of one bitcoin the other day, after years of stubborn resistance, I did it through a popular investing app that sells my data to hedge funds who use it to better inform their bets. Governments can trace bitcoin transactions with ease, so you can’t even use it for crime or political dissent.

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