We’re All Crypto People Now

All the while, the true believers and veterans of the 12-year-old digital currency industry insist that the underlying tech is real and transformative and finally — finally! — ready to upend nothing less than the global financial system and internet as we know it.

Everyone seems to be getting rich or selling a token or predicting a revolution. Digital currencies are volatile, risky and prone to bubbles; countless fortunes have already been made and lost. In some cases, many people are already using blockchains — the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies — without realizing it or understanding how, exactly, they work.

“Bitcoin mania is not a fad,” Daniel Ives, an equities analyst at Wedbush Securities, wrote in a recent note to clients, “but rather the start of a new age on the digital currency front.”

Short of that, cryptocurrency is, at the very least, now seen as a good place to park some cash. Everyone has read the stories of teenage crypto millionaires — or the pizza bought with Bitcoin that would now be worth millions. To not get involved is, in crypto-speak, to “have fun staying poor.” In other words: We are all crypto people now. Gulp.

It’s hard to sit by, watching our index funds and 401(k)s passively, predictably, responsibly tick upward, while an art-world outsider named Beeple sells an NFT of a digital collage for $69 million. For many, news of this transaction raised a simple question: Why not me?

Mark Greenberg, a photographer, had that thought in March when he auctioned off an NFT of a previously unpublished portrait he’d taken of Andy Warhol in 1985. Watching the bids climb to $100,000, he was elated. He hadn’t been able to work much in the pandemic, and this money could help with his daughter’s upcoming wedding and the house he’d just bought. But then he started to worry.

His sale’s bounty was stored in a digital account that only he had access to. What would happen to it if he, a 69-year-old with some health issues, suddenly dropped dead?

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