Cryptocurrencies and Blockchains

From their shadowy origins in Bitcoin to their use by multinational corporations, cryptocurrencies and blockchains are remaking the rules of digital media and society. Meanwhile, regulators, governments, and the public are trying to make sense of it all.

In this accessible book, Quinn DuPont guides readers through the changing face of money and shows how blockchain technology powers new forms of value exchange and social coordination. The reader will learn about cryptocurrency and blockchain developers and users, investment opportunities and risks, changes to politics and law, social and industrial applications, and what this all means for the new economy.

Cryptocurrencies and Blockchains dispenses with hype and offers sober reflection on this crucial and timely topic. It is essential reading for students and scholars of culture, politics, media, and the economy, as well as anyone who wants to understand, take part in, or change the future of work and society. Purchase book.

Cover Page

Experiments in digital society

 

I bought Bitcoin at $20. I bought Ethereum at $4. I’ve bought coins, tokens, and “crypto” of every kind. As I write this, Bitcoin trades near $20,000, Ethereum above $1,000. Blockchain startups launch in the millions or hundreds of millions. By the time you read this, these prices may very well seem quaint.

But, I’m no investor, and this is no investment book. I lost money when the Mt. Gox exchange bankrupted, and then again when “The DAO” crowdsourcing experiment was hacked. I bought penny coins and that stayed penny coins. Those Bitcoins and Ethers? I sold long ago, making profit enough for a couple of nice dinners. This book is no guide to riches.

This book is a guide to understanding the wide, and yes sometimes wild, world of cryptocurrencies and blockchains.

It is remarkable how quickly the topic has grown in interest and importance. Just a few years ago cryptocurrencies and blockchains were considered fringe topics largely of interest to only a niche community of software developers. Today, banks and institutional investors are actively trading cryptocurrencies, international engineering and standards associations are helping shape the future of blockchain technologies, blue chip enterprises are leading research and development, and government agencies both big and small are deploying the technology for their constituents. By 2016, billions had already poured into research and development. Through 2017, cryptocurrency and blockchain venture capital funding (US $3.7 billion) surpassed the entirety of all other technology seed funding (Wilson, 2017), and there are no signs of investment slowing down through 2018 and forward. Hype and general interest, combined with confusion, has also grown rapidly. Issues facing cryptocurrencies and blockchains—from hacks to the hunt for Bitcoin’s inventor—are regularly featured on the front pages of leading newspapers, in magazines, and in the daily television and radio news cycle. The inexact science of online search volume is also indicative of the hype and confusion—searches for cryptocurrency and blockchain keywords are now several factors greater than the big technology stories of the last decade, besting Web 2.0, Cloud Computing, and VoIP (Figure 1). Perhaps the truest measure of widespread interest is the number of times I have heard conversations about cryptocurrencies and blockchains at my local café or bar, and even the deli.


Figure 1: Online search volume for questions about technologies

The key insight I develop in this book is that cryptocurrencies and blockchains are more social than technological. In fact, few technologies require as much from people as cryptocurrencies and blockchains, and yet, developers, advocates, critics, and users often ignore this fact and fail to see the broader applications and implications.