What is cryptocurrency?
Unlike the American dollar, cryptocurrency is decentralized digital money that is stored and verified on the blockchain.
If you’ve been alive in the first quarter of the 21st century– you’ve heard of Bitcoin, and maybe even Ethereum.
What do I mean by decentralized? Well, there's no government agency that manages or oversees the exchange of crypto. This means there is no one to maintain its value if it were to rapidly inflate or deflate. Rather than having said central authority, it is the responsibility of the users of cryptocurrency to maintain cryptocurrency online.
Like common currencies, you can use cryptocurrency to purchase goods and services, which is most commonly done in countries like Nigeria, the Philippines and Peru. In the U.S., it is most common to invest in crypto like you would with stock.
So, you’ve heard of the big B in the crypto industry, “Bitcoin” but what is it really?
Bitcoin was the first crypto currency with proofs used to verify digital transactions using blockchain technology.
At this point, if you’re a bit thrown off by “blockchain technology” let me fill you in. A blockchain is an online database used to record code. Some have compared it to a master checkbook that computers worldwide use. Those who use cryptocurrency record their transactions on the blockchain, which is updated and verified constantly to maintain accuracy.
How do crypto exchanges work?
Cryptocurrency must be purchased through online marketplaces, known as crypto exchanges, common ones in the U.S. being Coinbase, Kraken and Gemini among others. Using these exchanges, you can purchase cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, USD Coin, Binance coin… you name it. Not all exchanges are supportive of every type of crypto currency, and not every one comes without fees, known as “gas fees”.
As mentioned previously, you can also invest in the stocks of Bitcoin, Ethereum and any public cryptocurrency company you can think of. But if you’re more concerned with the crypto side of things and putting your money somewhere other than your savings, it's recommended to invest in companies like IBM, Bank of America, Microsoft and LVMH which are shifting towards blockchain technology in their daily use.
Let’s address the obvious: crypto is down 35% over the last year, but also risen in value over 1000% since 2017. So I’d *sarcastically* say it still has a promising future.
Where is cryptocurrency used?
The countries using cryptocurrency the most are (in order) Nigeria, Vietnam, the Philippines, followed by Peru, Turkey, Peru and several other Latin American countries. The common denominator among these countries is their economy’s reliance on remittances and peer-to-peer phone payments.
What does this mean? That as people from these countries are immigrating away from home, they continue to send money back to their family in the country. An easy way to do this is through cryptocurrency. A survey conducted by Statista, proved that Nigeria has the highest rated use of crypto out of 74 countries.
The necessity of remittance payments to stabilize these economies has led their governments to approve crypto exchanges and even work beside them, as the Philippines has set up their own blockchain known as “bonds.ph” with Unionbank to exchange government bonds as well as install crypto ATMs. Clearly, crypto is becoming mainstream in these countries and is proving effective.
As you can see from the graph above, European nations had consistently low adoption rates of crypto. Why is that? Perhaps because we do not rely on remittances? We already have a seemingly strong banking system? Well to start, many governments, like Japan once did, have gone so far as to ban crypto. Algeria, Bolivia, China, Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, India, Iraq, Nepal, Russia, Turkey and Vietnam have hopped on this bandwagon in crypto regulation.
When was cryptocurrency invented?
So you understand crypto a bit more, this crazy new thing is starting to make a bit more sense and is even used more mainstream in several countries. Surprise! Crypto isn’t so new afterall. There were attempts to create an online currency prior to the 21st century… I know, shocking. Here's a rough timeline of the growth of crypto to hopefully clear some things up for you.
1998: Bit Gold
B-money and Bit gold were previous attempts to create an encrypted online currency. Created by Nick Szabo the “blockchain pioneer” in as early as 1998. Many believe that this attempt inspired Satoshi Nakamoto's invention of Bitcoin, or that Szabo may even be the anonymous Nakamoto – however, Szabo denies this. Szabo’s goal was to cut out the middlemen of banks. The issue here was a similar issue crypto has faced — trust-based systems make users vulnerable to fraud or theft.
2008: Nakamoto’s Paper
So here's where we get to the ~mysterious~ Nakamoto character. The man (or so we think, his identity is unknown) released the now infamous paper “Bitcoin – A Peer to Peer Electronic Cash System '' through, of all things – a mailing list. Got to love email marketing. The goal of this paper was to address a “purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash that would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution”. Yeah, we see the eerie similarity to Szabo’s Bit Gold too.
But anyways, his goal is to bypass financial institutions, getting the whole “decentralized” name and such. Cryptography would be used to prove transactions into a chain (we now know this as the Blockchain).
2009: The Birth of Bitcoin
Finally the public can access Bitcoin, and users are able to so-called ‘mine’ Bitcoin, which essentially means users can create new Bitcoin, conduct exchanges, record and verify them. Anything seem particularly interesting in the timing of Bitcoin? Maybe perhaps the fact that it was a recession baby? Yeah, interesting… One of bitcoin’s first adopters was programmer Hal Finney, receiving 10 bitcoins the day it was released. He was quickly followed by B-money creator Wei Dai, and our guy Nick Szabo of Bit Gold. Eventually Nakamoto transitioned the Bitcoin leadership position over to fellow developer Gavin Andresen.
I hate to say it, but if we all invested in Bitcoin this year, just a couple hundred dollars, we’d be multimillionaires.
2010: Selling Bitcoin, the biggest mistake of a man’s life .
A sad, sad man by the name of Laszlo Hanyecz, sells his 10,000 Bitcoin on Bitcointalk.com to a 19-year old student to purchase two Papa John Pizzas, exchanging $41. Lets just say those pizzas were treated like gods, purchased for (what is now) about $100 million. Now this treasured day of May 22 is celebrated by the Bitcoin community as “Bitcoin Pizza Day”.
2013: The Growth and Fall
Bitcoin reaches $1,000! But the price eventually falls to roughly $300. It was over two years before Bitcoin peaked to $1,000 it once was.
2014: An unsolved Bitcoin scandal
At the time the biggest Bitcoin exchange was Mt. Gox is based in Tokyo, at the time almost a billion owners kept their crypto here. When the exchange went offline, owners never saw their money again.
This cryptocurrency remains missing to this day, the stolen currency valued at $4.4B in 2022. Back in November of 2021, Mt. Gox created a “Rehabilitation Plan'' aimed at returning lost crypto to investors who lost their funds 8 years ago. This plan is still in the works.
2016: A little thing called Ethereum
Ethereum launches their cryptocurrency by using blockchain technology. Here is where ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings) entered the crypto marketplace — where stocks in startups could be traded to fundraise these corporations. Unfortunately, China wasn’t so much into them and banned them.
2017: Banks & The Blockchain
Finally, banks are starting to get behind the “whole crypto thing”. We’re talking Barclays, Citi Bank, Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas who all are interested in partnering will the infamous Bitcoin. This isn’t the only huge change happening in the world of crypto —blockchain is revolutionizing the Fintech industry.
As the Harvard Business Review puts it: “With blockchain, we can imagine a world in which contracts are embedded in digital code and stored in transparent, shared databases, where they are protected from deletion, tampering, and revision. In this world every agreement, every process, every task, and every payment would have a digital record and signature that could be identified, validated, stored, and shared. Intermediaries like lawyers, brokers, and bankers might no longer be necessary” (HBR, January-February 2017).
2018: The Bitcoin “Bubble” Popped
More and more countries start to regulate or even outright ban cryptocurrency as semi-regular hacks call for security concerns. Of course, this causes the market to decline. We’re talking an 80% decline year to year. Mt. Gox wasn’t the only hack that had occurred in the 2010s, Ethereum-based DAO lost $50 million.
2020: Tesla brings us hope
Microstrategy, a company providing business software and cloud-based services, announces its purchase of over $1 billion in Bitcoin. And so of course everyone hops on board, including Elon Musk, who had previously mocked crypto.
Finally Musk admits “I think Bitcoin is on the verge of getting broad acceptance by conventional finance people” and decides to out-do everyone, purchasing $1.5 billion in Bitcoin in 2021 on behalf of Tesla.
2022: Mainstream buy-in amongst crashes
As we all know, crypto has hit a rough spot in 2022. Bitcoin and Ethereum went down over 50% from 2021 peaks. Because of this and the growth of crypto, U.S. government plan to create regulations for cryptocurrency, mainly focused at stablecoin regulation due to several crashes. One of such, the Terra Luna crash, occurred in May 2022 when crypto markets fell and TerraUSD (UST) depegged from the dollar, causing other cryptocurrencies to crash with them.
Good news for crypto enthusiasts, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell announced in 2021 that he had “no intention” of banning cryptocurrency in the U.S.
Because of this, more and more mainstream companies within various sectors are embracing DeFi (decentralized finance) and investing in cryptocurrency and blockchain. AMC, PayPal and Tesla are among many companies now accepting cryptocurrency payments.
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