According to ChatGPT, many people still do not understand the technology behind Bitcoin. Presumably, this lack of education could limit the decentralized digital currency’s adoption.
In principle, I agree that it’s of utmost importance to teach others what Bitcoin is, how it works, and why it matters. After all, no invention or discovery in the history of humankind makes sense in the absence of both research to refine it and education to explain it. And even when you have these two elements, a context for this knowledge to be used is also necessary. Arguably, everything from algebra to the internet is meaningless unless we use it to solve problems and improve our lives.
Bitcoin is no different. At its core, it’s software which runs on millions of computers worldwide for the purpose of securing and verifying an innovative self-contained economic system. It’s simultaneously a much-expected discovery and a revolutionary invention. It has the potential to change the way we understand and transact money. However, the way we use and describe such a system is subjective to human action and every individual’s financial needs.
Given these arguments, I consider the statement “the lack of education could limit Bitcoin’s adoption” silly, lazy, and antiquated. It could have been true in 2009, when only a few computer nerds understood what Bitcoin is and how it can be useful. It was probably true in 2014, before Andreas Antonopoulos’ “Mastering Bitcoin” was launched to inspire an entire generation of writers to also pursue this path. But in the year 2023, anyone around the world can read at least some basic information about Bitcoin in their native language. So I’d like to argue that this is the most short-sighted and easiest to debunk type of FUD that ChatGPT could produce, as today we have more educational resources about Bitcoin than ever.
I could probably break the FUD only by presenting how the BTCTKVR magazine has grown since its release in 2021: even before launching this year’s edition, more than 2000 people worldwide have received a physical copy of the magazine and many more enthusiasts downloaded the free digital version. And since it’s an open source project, some of the best articles have been translated into French and Spanish. In 2022, Bitcoin enthusiasts from France, Argentina, El Salvador, and Senegal were able to get their hands on magazines at various conferences. And this is only the empirical data, to which I can personally attest.
Every day, hundreds of new articles about Bitcoin get written all around the world. We can see increasing interest from blogs, mainstream news websites, as well as academic journals. Furthermore, if you search for “Bitcoin” on YouTube and filter the results to only see the content that has been posted in the last 24 hours, you’re going to scroll through thousands of videos in English, French, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, Vietnamese, Czech, Polish, and many other languages. You don’t have enough time in a day to consume the entirety of content which gets generated, which is a remarkable achievement.
But let’s also look at books: Amazon lists more than 300 long-form publications on the topic of Bitcoin, ranging from digital-only self-published guides to paperbacks from some of the biggest publishing houses in the world. You can find everything from coloring books to trading guides, economic theory manuals, and programming tutorials.
Admittedly, most of the content is in English and all the latest research gets published in English first. There also appears to be a lag of 3-4 years between the original work and the moment it gets translated and commercialized in more than 5 languages. Furthermore, some of the more technical works rarely receive translations – as their target audience is educated enough to already do most of the work in English. While these points are valid, my argument still stands: everyone around the world who benefits from internet access can learn at least the basics about Bitcoin. If something is not officially translated and/or published, today’s artificial intelligence technology is powerful enough to turn an English text into something that a Cambodian or a Gambian can read.
But to play ChatGPT’s advocate, there’s an obvious difference between quantity and quality which can be best observed in the case of YouTube videos – most of these clips are purposely designed and structured to attract clicks, but rarely offer much educational information. Many of them present distorted facts which reveal a poor understanding of the subject matter, and the most popular angle from which Bitcoin gets presented is a type of speculation which closely resembles gambling. It’s not even about betting against fiat currency inflation, the most popular approach is all about trading BTC for more USD.
This is arguably fine. Does every Bitcoin user really need to understand the technical details about how sending and receiving money works? Is it really necessary to explain economic theory to someone who only needs to send and receive money from a digital wallet? Also, does a form of sound money require a moral dogma which actively judges the ways in which people use it?
Bitcoin is a tool towards which people voluntarily and rationally converge when they need to. It’s certainly easier to adopt among groups of technology enthusiasts and libertarians, but it’s the oppressed and censored individuals who need it the most in order to overcome their struggles. While the former group uses Bitcoin as an ideological hobby or for speculation, the latter category of people needs it to survive under tyranny.
Though I tend to be a puritan when it comes to Bitcoin-related content and often dismiss low-quality contributions, I can agree that a limited amount of knowledge that’s being shared is still better than no such knowledge at all. As long as people know why they use Bitcoin (and we certainly shouldn’t question their rationality), it doesn’t matter that they can’t tell the difference between P2PKH and SegWit addresses.
Internet users don’t need to understand the differences between various protocols in order to use e-mail and an internet browser. Bitcoin needs to reach the same degree of accessibility, under a user interface which seamlessly enables anyone to send and receive payments across all layers and sidechains.
So yes, education is certainly important and there’s already plenty of it being produced every day. But awareness is even more important. Thankfully, governments in crisis do a pretty good job promoting Bitcoin when they try to ban it. When the Nigerian government attempted to restrict access to on-ramps and off-ramps in 2021 as a response to the declining demand for their failing national currency, the effect was that more people found out about Bitcoin and started exchanging it in a peer to peer manner for goods and services. At one point, there was so much demand for BTC that the exchange rate in Nigeria was higher than in any other place in the world.
More recently, the Argentinian central bank decided to “mitigate risks” by banning Bitcoin from payment applications. What they actually did was to tell people that Bitcoin is the escape from the crisis – and undoubtedly, the results will be seen in the coming months. The central bankers did everything it takes to help the Bitcoin project, even if they don’t realize it. All of this rising demand for Bitcoin will lead to the creation of even more ad hoc educational resources.
The people from Nigeria and Argentina weren’t deterred by the rather limited access to educational resources (at least, as compared to English-speaking countries). They didn’t give up on adopting Bitcoin only because nobody translated a specific book in their language and didn’t care that the amount of BTC-related podcasts and YouTube shows is lower in their country. They pursued their needs, used the tools at their disposal, and learned to the best of their ability.
As a decentralized project, Bitcoin can’t coordinate to finance the writing of books, the recording of podcasts, and the filming of video tutorials. Everything is a voluntary effort that may or may not be supported by the demand of a community. Some users create educational content with a specific audience in mind, while others do it for the sake of it – only because they want it to exist.
This magazine is part of the latter category: I don’t know who you are, why you’re reading this, and what you’re planning to do with the newly-acquired knowledge. However, I do hope that you’re going to share some information with your peers and help them become more free. If you want to translate this magazine, go ahead. If you want to make changes and sell it, be my guest. All that matters is that information gets passed along for noble and benevolent goals which protect human dignity and freedom of all kinds.
In a perfect world, where central banks and governments are accountable and honest, Bitcoin would be a silly idea that fails due to lack of demand. But in our times, it’s a bit ironic how these institutions drive people towards Bitcoin and enable educators and content creators to enjoy a degree of success within their communities. Adoption rate and the quality of education are intertwined, as the former is a metric for the supply which pushes for the creation of useful resources.
In a perfect world, ChatGPT would be right on this subject matter. Unfortunately, it’s only a tool which parrots pro-government narratives without much nuance. It’s what the investors of OpenAI want, which makes it even more satisfying to register another bitter defeat for the machine. Bitcoin education to the moon!