In a now-famous 1994 clip from the Today show, Bryant Gumbel asks his fellow hosts, “What is internet, anyway?” They fumble through various answers before a technician behind the camera explains. The hosts still appear confused.
The current crypto discourse feels similar, with everyone jumping to enlighten everyone else, even when they themselves might not fully grasp it. Most eyes glaze at the first mention of “blockchain.” Crypto has already minted entire industries-and whole new ways of getting rich-while most people still can’t tell a token from a Pokemon. There’s Bitcoin and Ethereum and Dogecoin and SafeMoon and Chainlink and Solana and Polkadot and Polygon and Cardano and and and…
Among the crypto faithful-particularly the maximalists, or “maxis,” who go all-in for their one true coin-the differences between the coins are critical. Which one you own says a lot about who you are: your philosophy, your friend circle, even your fashion sense. Each cryptocurrency represents an entire culture, with its own memes, aesthetic, language, trusted voices, and power structure. Buying one is not only an investment; it’s a declaration of identity. As Aleksandar Svetski, a professed “Bitcoin supremacist,” put it during a panel at the Bitcoin 2021 conference in Miami in June, “I don’t care what you say. Show me your bank account, and I’ll tell you what you believe.” Perhaps the reverse is also true: If you want to understand one of these mysterious new assets, look at its believers.
Crypto is in a precarious moment. More people have bought coins this year than ever before. At the same time, the sector is drawing increasing scrutiny from regulators around the world. In June, China banned Bitcoin mining. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler has indicated a need for tighter rules. Almost every week a crypto company gets busted for fraud or a ransomware hacker demands payment in Bitcoin. And though most coins reached all-time highs in May, the market has lost a fifth of its value since then.
In this fraught environment, fan armies have assembled: Bitcoin maxis, Ethereans, the Doge Army, Link Marines touting Chainlink, and other altcoiners. The motivation is partly to talk their book, hoping that the more people hear about a coin, the more likely they are to buy it-a goal known derisively as “number go up.” But the tribes also help delineate their projects’ scope, principles, and priorities.
New coins are born every day, and few survive. In some cases, the winners are the products that offer the best technology or solve a thorny problem. But often the most popular tokens simply have the loudest boosters. (See: Elon Musk.) To outsiders the coin wars might sound like the infighting of Monty Python’s Life of Brian’s Judean People’s Front vs. the People’s Front of Judea. But to those invested in crypto-financially and emotionally-the differences couldn’t be more significant, and the implications for the digital future couldn’t be greater.
The first time Sal Strom heard about Bitcoin, she had a physical reaction. In 2017 the artist was dining with a friend in Oregon whose son was investing in “some internet money thing,” Strom recalls. She already used cash so rarely, this felt to her like the next step in an evolution: “All my little hairs go up on my arm. My body said, ‘This is real.”
Strom went home and researched cryptocurrencies online. The idea of decentralized money that lives on the internet “just made sense to me,” she says. Strom had also been in debt for a decade, switching from one credit card to another. Bitcoin, which she expected to increase in value as more people adopted it, promised a way out. She transferred her savings from stocks into Bitcoin.
Strom began making Bitcoin-themed art. She created a collage showing a map of the world with various foreign currencies glued on and Bitcoin logos superimposed. Another work depicts a graveyard and a tally of “Bitcoin obituaries”-the number of times the currency had been declared dead-based on a meme she’d seen on Twitter. Strom says she takes the same approach to art as she does to finance: “When they tell you something won’t work, I love to do it.”
Strom, who’s 64, doesn’t fit the archetype of the self-righteous libertarian Bitcoin bro. But the way she talks about Bitcoin echoes the language and attitudes that legions of faithful espouse. She didn’t just learn about Bitcoin; she got “orange-pilled,” “went down the rabbit hole,” and “studied” it like the Talmud. She refers to cryptocurrencies other than Bitcoin as “shitcoins,” and describes accumulating small amounts of Bitcoin as “stacking sats,” or satoshis, named after Bitcoin’s pseudonymous founder Satoshi Nakamoto. (100 million satoshis = 1 Bitcoin.)
For most crypto people, Bitcoin is the gateway drug. It’s a simple, elegant idea: a digital currency that anyone can send and receive without intermediaries (or, in Bitcoin parlance, “censors”) such as banks or governments. Transactions are executed and recorded on the blockchain (sorry, this won’t take long), a decentralized ledger stored on computers around the world. In exchange for providing security to the ledger, “miners” are rewarded with new coins and transaction fees. Advocates pitch Bitcoin as a store of value (“digital gold”), a medium of exchange (less so now, because of volatility), and a hedge against inflation. You don’t have to understand the intricacies of blockchain technology to grok that there will only ever be 21 million Bitcoin. As demand goes up and supply remains fixed, the logic goes, the price will increase.
But Bitcoin’s main appeal may be its romanticism: Decentralize money, Bitcoiners say, and you radically shift power away from banks and the state. For aspiring revolutionaries, buying Bitcoin can feel like storming the Bastille, without even having to put on pants.
Conversion comes with a starter kit of memes and catchphrases. Bitcoiners I spoke with at the Miami conference promised to “hodl” their coins instead of selling them, dismissed criticism as “FUD” (fear, uncertainty, and doubt), and added laser eyes to their Twitter avatars to signal their allegiance. “Have fun staying poor” is the refrain directed at non-Bitcoiners.
The doubters often reinforce their belief. “Everybody I know is against it,” Strom says. Her son, a financial adviser, urged her not to invest in Bitcoin, and her partner, who works in tech, told her it’s a scam. (He prefers Ethereum.) After reading a book called Bitcoin & Black America, Topher Bates tried to talk friends and family into investing. “The truth is, most people don’t want to hear it,” Bates says. “I haven’t lost friends,” says John Lester, who attended the Bitcoin conference dressed in a T-shirt featuring Ray Liotta with laser eyes. “But I’ve definitely had friends I’m less deeply connected to.”
At the same time, Bitcoin has brought them closer to fellow disciples. Strom and artist Carole Ann Danner, both of whom displayed work at the Bitcoin conference, bonded over their shared passion. “She’s more obsessed than I am,” Strom says. Paul and Nara Kim, a couple in New York City, talked about Bitcoin on their first date in 2018; now they’re married.
For all its revolutionary swagger, the community struggles with diversity, at least in the U.S. “There’s not a lot of Black women here,” says Andile Ndlovu, looking around at the Miami Bitcoin conference crowd. “It’s not good.” Ndlovu, who was born in Zimbabwe and works in the music industry in Los Angeles, chalks it up to a perception among Black people that crypto is “elitist” or that you have to be rich to get involved. “I’m here to learn more so I can let my people know what’s going on,” she says.
Arguing with a Bitcoiner is like having one’s brain yanked apart. There’s a riposte to any objection: The energy required to secure the network destroys the environment-but it incentivizes green energy! It’s slow and clunky-but the newer Lightning network makes it fast! It won’t survive regulation-but it can’t be controlled! It’s a Ponzi scheme-but so is any new asset going through price discovery!
For many fans, Bitcoin comes down to faith: They believe it will succeed because they believe others will also believe it will succeed. If that reasoning sounds circular, they say, welcome to money. Now it’s simply a matter of convincing the rest.
That’s where the maxis come in. Whereas Strom doesn’t evangelize about Bitcoin, Svetski, the shaven-headed Australian entrepreneur and “Bitcoin supremacist,” considers it his duty. “We are the white blood cells of the network,” he said during a panel at the Miami conference. “If the center does not hold, we become just another shitcoin project.” Bitcoin maxis must therefore promote it and shoot down contrary narratives. This may sound like shilling. But Svetski tells me he wants to keep Bitcoin aligned with its original ideals of freedom and resistance to censorship. “This is perfect money,” he says, that is “rooted in mathematics” and the laws of thermodynamics. In the future we’ll remember humanity’s three great inventions as “fire, Bitcoin, and teleportation.”
Maximalists are as tough on each other as they are on critics, Svetski says. When influential Bitcoiner Robert Breedlove tweeted about a new crypto product called BitClout, Bitcoin maxis laced into him. “Iron sharpens iron,” Svetski says. “It might seem like abuse, but we’re honestly calling each other out.”
Michael Babyak needed a new thing. After years of working in Washington politics, first on Capitol Hill and finally as director of marketing technology for the Republican National Committee, he quit his job in 2017 when he found himself, as he diplomatically puts it, “at odds with a leader of the party.” He’d gotten into politics to be “part of something bigger than myself,” but now that existential ballast was gone.
He’d first bought Bitcoin in 2015 to pay for streaming sports. After the market crashed in 2017, he decided to buy more, then eventually bought some Ether, the cryptocurrency that fuels another blockchain called Ethereum, and watched the numbers climb. “I was like, ‘I need to start learning what the heck this stuff actually is,” he says.
Turned off by what he called the “doomsday prepper” attitude of Bitcoiners, he began exploring Ethereum forums, where he discovered “the most universally welcoming community in the world,” he says. When he asked questions, developers responded promptly. Ethereum, he learned, takes the blockchain technology undergirding Bitcoin and builds a whole ecosystem of computer programs, or “smart contracts,” on top of it. Instead of just sending and receiving money, you could use the ledger as a platform for all kinds of transactions, whether real estate deals, art purchases, or complex financial instruments. The Ethereum blockchain’s dedicated currency, Ether, is used to interact with those programs. The key factor, Ethereans say, is “trustlessness”: when signing a contract, instead of paying an auditor to vet the counterparty and a bank to transfer funds and a lawyer to sue the counterparty when they fail to deliver, you can simply trust the code to execute the contract as designed.
And it’s all open source. Anyone can take the code for one project on Ethereum and use it to build another, or recombine existing ones-a quality known as “composability” that inspired the metaphor of Ethereum as “money Legos.” For example, a few years ago crypto traders wanted to be able to sell their coins and lock in profits, but they didn’t want to cash out for dollars, which can be cumbersome. So developers created a “stablecoin” pegged to the U.S. dollar. Stablecoins are now a cornerstone of the blockchain-based financial system, because they make it easier to move money around and enable developers to build countless new “Legos” on top. (They’re also controversial, as people wonder if some coins are fully backed by dollars.) Babyak had never been a Wall Street guy like many of his Princeton classmates, but he now found himself getting excited by a “paradigm shift in finance.”
He also saw Ethereum changing the way companies operate. After years of working in government, Babyak thrilled to the possibilities of blockchain-based decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). Instead of a boss giving orders and employees following them, DAO members can vote on company decisions based on how many of the organization’s tokens they own. “It’s almost like democracy at its finest,” Babyak says. Sure, a small cohort could seize power by buying up all the tokens, but, he argues, at least the process is transparent. Likewise, creators and brands can issue “social tokens” to give fans a stake in their output, building community and aligning financial incentives.
The pragmatism of the Ethereum crowd appealed to Babyak. If Bitcoiners are the warriors of the crypto universe, Ethereans are the builders. Bitcoiners emphasize individual freedom from financial tyranny, while Ethereans embrace an ethos of collective action and collaboration. “You’re betting on cooperation,” Babyak says.
The whole aesthetic of the Ethereum community stands in contrast to Bitcoin’s alpha-male energy. Instead of laser eyes and 300-inspired Spartan references, Ethereans favor unicorns and pastel colors. The website of a recent online hackathon sponsored by ETHGlobal featured a retro ’90s look: a Microsoft Windows-style interface in friendly pinks and blues, along with a “LoFi Beats” button in the corner. “This is not a competition,” the organizer said while explaining the rules of the competition. “We want you to learn, and that’s our primary goal.” Ethereum chic was perhaps best captured in a 2019 video in which its gangly co-founder, Vitalik Buterin, raps painfully about the blockchain in front of looping animations, including a kangaroo DJ and a koala bear riding a rocket that spews a trail of rainbow hearts. Ethereans signal their loyalty on social media by replacing Es with symbols in their names, so it’s Bloomberg Businessweek. (The is also the currency symbol for Ether.) In another common move, Babyak recently changed his Twitter handle to babyak.eth.
Bitcoin loyalists scoff at many of the Ethereans’ claims. Babyak says he believes in “the flippening,” a moment in the future when Ether will surpass Bitcoin in total market value. Svetski rejects the idea that Ether could unseat Bitcoin as the top digital currency: “We’ve discovered gold while everyone else is still f—ing around with seashells.” Svetski isn’t impressed with Ethereum-backed projects such as nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, the online artworks that recently blew up in value. “We don’t need another way to sell each other JPEGs,” he says. “We need to fix money.”
Compared with the Etherean worldview, Bitcoin maximalism can sound like a kind of minimalism: One invention fixes everything. Ethereans, by contrast, envision a future of ongoing incremental changes, upgrading into eternity. It’s a big-tent vision of technological progress that even has room for Bitcoin. “These two things can both exist,” Babyak says.
Ethereans do have their peeves. They frown at any blockchain billed as an “Ethereum killer,” whether it’s Cardano (“all hype,” Babyak says), Solana (“kinda cringey”), or Binance Smart Chain (full of “scams and hacks”). Never mind that these networks are trying to address real problems with the Ethereum protocol, including its slow speed and often exorbitant transaction fees. Ethereans say that future upgrades, which will transition the mining process to make it less energy-intensive, among other tweaks, will resolve those issues better than the newcomers starting from scratch.
Just as Babyak was embraced by the Ethereum community, he’s expanded it, too. He now finds himself being treated as an authority on the subject of crypto, with friends and acquaintances seeking his advice. His wife, Cameron Hardesty, chief executive officer of a flower-distribution business, encouraged him to put his thoughts into a newsletter, which he plans to publish soon. She’s happy to see him excited about something new. “He was wandering in the wilderness a bit, careerwise,” she says. “And then crypto happened. It’s given him a pathway to this new identity.”
Hardesty also called out crypto’s lopsided gender ratio. An article on the website Bitch Media recently dubbed Bitcoin “astrology for men.” Hardesty sees crypto playing a social role. “The way men relate to each other, there has to be some non-emotional glue to the conversation,” she says. “It’s usually sports, and now for Michael it’s crypto, too.”
Babyak’s love for the blockchain can cause tension, Hardesty says. Between her startup and a baby on the way, it can be stressful to hear about crypto all day. “I’m frequently like, ‘Can we talk about something else?” she says. She also wants to make sure they’re not overexposed, financially. “He’s such a believer that he can’t imagine a world in which the value of these assets doesn’t keep growing,” she says. But Babyak says he takes a relatively conservative approach to crypto investment. After “a little bit of YOLOing” in other coins, he says, he now keeps the vast majority of his crypto savings in Ether.
Gamblers and Farmers
For Jack Brew, YOLOing is the point. The 23-year-old first got into crypto when he was 15 so he could play online poker. He’d save up his babysitting money, arrange to meet a guy at a Starbucks in Venice, Calif., and pay him cash in exchange for Bitcoin. “It wasn’t shady or anything,” Brew says.
In college he got into margin trading and became an Ether maxi right before the token went parabolic. As a freshman he made almost $250,000, he says, only to lose it all on some bad shorts, or bets that the price of Ether would fall. “It was gross,” Brew says. “It put me in a dark place.” He got out of trading altogether and focused on finishing his degree.
But then came the DeFi Summer of 2020. “That’s when I got a little bit back into everything,” he said. Decentralized finance, or DeFi, covers an array of blockchain-based tools aimed at building a whole new financial system based on computer protocols instead of traditional companies. DeFi-ers imagine that one day everything-mortgages, stock and bond markets, and more-will run on smart contracts. For now, though, DeFi mainly entails swapping crypto tokens on decentralized exchanges, such as Uniswap or SushiSwap, or on other dapps (decentralized apps) that let users earn more tokens by doing things like borrowing and lending coins or providing liquidity for trades.
It can be hard to get one’s head around the abstract world of DeFi, so imagine for a moment something more concrete: a large bazaar, with customers wanting to trade every kind of item, from chickens to staplers to mops to beans. Say people want to exchange chickens for staplers. Individuals can act as market makers by maintaining an inventory of both chickens and staplers-providing liquidity-and take a cut of every trade. That cut could take the form of chickens or staplers, or some completely different item, such as beans. The market maker could also be rewarded with mops provided by the bazaar itself, to incentivize the person to work at this bazaar instead of the bazaar across the street. If a trade is especially risky-the price of one item could crash suddenly-the cut taken by the market maker can be extremely high: not only one bean, but a thousand or a million.
That’s DeFi, except what’s being traded is an only slightly less random collection of digital tokens, most of which you’ve never heard of. Instead of keeping an inventory of chickens and staplers, a market maker gets paid to provide coins to a trading pool. Because demand for these tokens is wildly uncertain, the liquidity providers, known in the DeFi space as “yield farmers,” can earn big profits fast to compensate for big risks. The most lucrative opportunities don’t last long, so they’re constantly on the hunt for the next score. Hence the term “degen,” short for “degenerate gambler,” which members of the DeFi community have proudly adopted.
Scams abound. Sometimes the theft is written into a token’s code; other times token creators abscond, leaving lenders holding worthless coins-a move known as a “rug pull.” A savvy yield farmer can assess the risk of an investment, but even high-profile projects can collapse, as Mark Cuban learned in June when he got caught in the now-famous Titan debacle, as the token’s value plunged almost to zero.
The prospect of astronomical yields was too much for Brew to resist, so he took up his plow. He found a liquidity pool called Swerve where he could stake the stablecoin Tether for an annual yield of 300%. (He’d missed its early yields of 1,000%.) Providing liquidity for a coin called Swampy was yielding 5% a day, plus the price of Swampy itself was at one point doubling daily. His biggest returns came from Cake, the native token of a decentralized exchange called PancakeSwap, which skyrocketed in April. He started the year low on funds; a few months later, he says, he was worth seven figures.
Monitoring his farms was a full-time job. “You couldn’t afford not to be paying attention,” he says. “If a new pool got released, or if you missed a presale,” you could lose out. Yield farming occasionally interfered with his day-to-day life, like when a tip came in while he was spending time with his girlfriend. “I’d be like, ‘Babe, I gotta go deal with this real quick.'”
One day, Brew was surfing in Malibu when he got a text from a friend saying that Pancake Bunny, a DeFi platform in which he’d staked Cake tokens, got rug-pulled. “I thought all my Cake was gone,” he says. Fortunately, when he checked his account, his tokens were still there; the rug pull hit a different token associated with the platform.
Having learned from his past losses, Brew locked 75% of his crypto portfolio in such a way that he couldn’t touch it for a year. “There could be a point where I don’t have the self-control to make a rational decision,” he says. He still takes risks with the remaining tokens. “I think it’s the only way I know how to make money,” he says.
When I spoke with Amy Castor, she was in an undisclosed location. She hasn’t gotten explicit threats, but the outspoken “no-coiner” has made enemies with her articles and tweets expressing doubt about the value of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. So she preferred to keep her whereabouts a secret. “The bigger a threat you become to this industry, the more people want to come after you,” she says.
Castor would know: She used to work in the industry. As a writer for crypto-focused publications, she flew around the world attending conferences, with IOHK, the company behind Cardano, a blockchain platform started by an Ethereum co-founder, sometimes footing the bill. “I had a blast, traveling, and partying, and drinking too much,” she says. “People would say, ‘You’re family, you’re one of us.’ ” Her relationship with the family soured after Castor began researching an article that displeased Cardano’s founder, Charles Hoskinson. “When I started to dig too deep, I was kicked out,” she says. (A spokesperson for IOHK says the company is “passionately committed to the principle of full editorial independence and would never treat a journalist differently based on what they have written about us in the past.”)
Around the same time, she began to admire the writing of David Gerard, a dyspeptic crypto critic in London. Gerard makes no attempt to hide his disdain for the blockchain and its fans. “There’s a lot of things to object to about crypto-it’s full of scams, it rips people off, proof-of-work mining is destructive-but my objection has always been the people,” he says. Gerard, a system administrator who has also worked as a music journalist, helped Castor understand the “cult of Bitcoin,” she says. She began sending him drafts for feedback, and vice versa. “I began to write more and more pieces that were critical of the crypto space,” she says.
The fundamental problem with Bitcoin, Gerard argues, is that it’s a “negative-sum game” designed to pay early investors at the expense of later investors-a Ponzi-like arrangement that’s bound to collapse. Bitcoin as a medium of exchange makes no sense, he says, because it’s slow, expensive, and volatile. As a longtime IT professional, Gerard is skeptical of Ethereum’s smart contracts: “Isn’t that a bullshit term?” he says. “It’s not a contract, and it’s not smart. It’s literally a small computer program on the blockchain. In real computing we call these database triggers, or stored procedures, and you never use them if you can avoid it. It’s just an engineering nightmare.” Nor does the “immutability” of the blockchain appeal to him: “Normal people don’t care about the irreversibility of transactions,” he says. If anything, they want to be able to dispute charges or undo typos. But with immutable transactions, he says, “all fat finger fumbles are final.”
Is there any value whatsoever to crypto? Yes, Gerard says: “Buying things your government doesn’t want you to. That’s a neutral way of saying this is for drugs and crooks.”
In the hype-ridden crypto media sphere, the no-coiners serve as a check on boosterism. It’s a running joke that Bitcoiners can interpret any news as “good for Bitcoin,” whether it’s China cracking down on miners or Musk announcing Tesla Inc. would no longer accept Bitcoin because of its environmental impact. (He’s since reconsidered.) Castor, Gerard, and a crew of skeptics push back against these cheerleading narratives. Castor has lately focused on El Salvador’s adoption of Bitcoin as legal tender, which Bitcoin Twitter celebrated despite moves by El Salvador’s right-wing president to undermine the country’s democratic institutions. “You start to ask, ‘How did this happen? Who’s behind this?” she says.
Castor gets the appeal. “I can understand why people fall for it,” she says. “It’s part of a whole belief system.” But she argues the main reason people buy it is “adrenaline-that same thrill people get from gambling addictions.” The philosophical justifications are window dressing, according to Gerard. “You’ll say and do anything, espouse any dumb ideology, go through the motions, and repeat catchphrases, such that you’ll get rich for free,” he says.
Castor briefly owned crypto, but it only made her anxious. “It felt like a hot potato to me,” she says. “It was scary. It messes with your mind.” It can be intoxicating for an investor, but it “also has the potential to destroy them,” she says. “It’s like Lord of the Rings.” Gerard has never bought a coin. “I don’t feel that I have to go skinny-dipping in a sewer to tell people that skinny-dipping in a sewer probably won’t work out well.” (Full disclosure, I decided to buy a few different coins in April as an investment and see what happens. They’ve plummeted.)
Gerard argues that DeFi may be the most insidious threat of all. “It isn’t producing anything economically,” he says, and amateur investors could get hurt by professional traders. “My moral interest is when retail gets ripped off,” he says. “If you’re rich, fine. But Mom and Dad don’t understand this.”
The no-coiners face a cry-wolf problem. Gerard has been predicting crypto’s demise for a decade now. “I’ve been wrong about Bitcoin lots,” he says. This doesn’t undercut his arguments, though: “It shows how stupid the market can be.”
Unlike many of their pro-crypto counterparts, the no-coiners are not getting rich. Gerard has turned his commentary into a modest income, self-publishing books including Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain, but Castor sometimes struggles to make ends meet. “I find a way to live very frugally,” she says. I asked if they’d ever organize a no-coiner conference. “Yeah, but nobody would fund it,” she says.
Tim Ursich Jr. didn’t understand the tweet: “One word: Doge.” “I thought it was a typo,” Ursich says. Elon Musk was being weird. He let it go.
But then Ursich saw references to Dogecoin everywhere. Curious, he sought out his crypto gurus, a group of tennis players he treated as a chiropractor at his sports clinic in Los Angeles County. “Their answer was that it’s something fun to own for those that don’t understand the market but want to feel like they’re part of a community,” he says.
Ursich, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, says he’s always looking for ways to channel his energy. He immediately vibed with the Dogecoin community, who spent all day posting memes on Twitter and Reddit. “They’re super fun and laid-back,” he says. “They’re like the flower babies of the ’60s, where nothing really bothers them.” He loved that it started as a joke to make fun of Bitcoin-it was named after the meme featuring a cute and silly looking shiba inu-plus he has an affinity for dogs, having grown up in California with “four dogs at a time, always rescues.”
Dogecoin is more like Bitcoin than Ethereum. It has no intrinsic utility and no value other than what others are willing to pay for it. But unlike Bitcoin, there’s no cap on the supply of Doge. Ursich’s vision of the crypto future is simple: “If Bitcoin is the gold, Ethereum is the silver.” Ursich says he imagines Dogecoin becoming the pocket money of crypto. (Right now, Dogecoin is worth about 27 cents to Bitcoin’s $45,700 and Ether’s $3,150.)
When some Doge fans suggested that the word stands for “Do only good everyday,” Ursich decided to act. Seeing charities struggling during the pandemic, he started producing physical Dogecoins-novelty items that cost a few dollars to manufacture-and sold them, donating a percentage of profits to animal rescues. He also mailed coins to people who shared their struggles online. “I said, ‘I stand with you,’ ” he says. ” ‘Just because you’re not getting engagements on social media doesn’t mean people aren’t praying for you.’ “
As the currency gained traction, its price rose. The Dallas Mavericks basketball team and baseball’s Oakland Athletics began accepting Dogecoin as payment for tickets. Musk said he was working with Dogecoin developers to “improve system transaction efficiency.” “It wasn’t just a joke memecoin anymore,” Ursich says.
Success bred competition, as memecoins such as SafeMoon, Shiba Inu, and Doge Killer promised similar astronomical returns. To Ursich these coins were merely “lottery scratchers” created to make a quick buck. Many Dogecoiners lashed out. The angry reaction in his own community disturbed Ursich. He hosted an audio chatroom on Twitter and criticized the negativity within the Doge Army ranks. “Don’t talk bad about other communities,” he said. “Our message is to do only good.” Thanks partly to that impassioned speech, his Twitter account, TheDogeCoinMilitia, now has more than 40,000 followers.
Despite its prominence, few consider Dogecoin a serious rival to the blue chips of crypto. Some critics argue that Dogecoin epitomizes the postmodern turn of the GameStop era, in which asset prices can rise and fall with no apparent connection to underlying value. “Doge is the ultimate in that it’s only narrative,” says Chris Blec, a consultant who runs the site DeFi Watch, which pushes for greater transparency in crypto. Financial analyst Demetri Kofinas denounces this phenomenon as “financial nihilism” and argues that it’s tied to a larger problem of social and existential dislocation. “This is why simulation theories have gotten so popular,” he said in a recent online talk, referring to the idea (also promulgated by Musk) that we may be living in a computer-generated Matrix. “There is this feeling that reality is less relevant.”
Unlike other memecoins, Doge arguably has value in the form of Musk. Crypto often gets described as a cult, but Dogecoin fits the definition better than other tokens, says Sam Lessin, an investor and partner at Slow Ventures. “Elon Musk is one of the greatest modern cult leaders,” he says. In the current financial environment, following the cult leader may in fact be a rational decision, he says. “If you do what Elon says first, you will actually make money.”
Ursich says that Dogecoin appeals to him less because of its price than because of the community, especially during the pandemic. Even though he couldn’t see his sister and her family, who live in Montana, he bonded with his 12-year-old niece over Doge memes. “I couldn’t ask her about school or basketball, but we could always talk about Doge,” he says. In this sense, Dogecoin-and really every token-is a social token.
Ursich now makes a point of accepting crypto, including Dogecoin, as payment at his clinic. He dreams of someday creating an animal sanctuary for sloths. “I couldn’t tell you why,” he says. “For whatever reason I’m superdrawn to sloths.”
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)