Bitcoin’s “Mayflower Generation” has grown into a group of people who want to change things. That’s why they need to know how threats have changed, and how they can keep their coins safe.
13 years ago, Bitcoin’s “Mayflower moment,” a group of people decided to leave the Fiat Empire and set out for a new country where they could control their own money, came to an end. There were Pilgrims and Revolutionary Army in the United States for 150 years. The Republic of Bitcoin has gone from Pilgrims to Revolutionary Army in less than a decade, though.
In what kind of people are these people? How are their personality, demographics, and knowledge of technology different from those who came before them? Is “Generation Bitcoin” ready to protect their money from current and future threats? And, most importantly, what must the rapidly growing community do now to make sure that our revolution will be a success?
Today, who are the Bitcoiners? While we don’t know for sure, we can see some big-picture trends.
These changes can be shown in many ways. In the first place, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence, like more people from different backgrounds attending industry events and more women in high-level industry jobs.
There’s also data that’s available to the public, like how many corporations have Bitcoin on their balance sheets. Years ago, pioneers like MicroStrategy would have been laughed at. Today, they are seen as important. Many businesses and countries are now investing in Bitcoin. A wave of miners have gone public, and many more businesses have started to do the same.
There is a lot of data on private people, and it shows that old stereotypes are also changing quickly. Investors over 55 who own crypto rose from just 7% to 22% between 2019 and 2020 in the United Kingdom. Gemini, a company that does consumer research, found that more than half of “crypto-curious” people are women, and a quarter of these people are over 55.
Even though the number of people using Bitcoin still has a long way to go before it looks like the rest of us. But it’s clear that today’s investors are very different from Bitcoin’s “Mayflower Generation.” However, this means that their technical knowledge and skills aren’t as good as they used to be. Are they ready for the threats they face?
Changes in threats?
The colonial rebels were lucky to have a target: a divided government led by a king 3,000 miles away in a land that was very different from their own. In today’s digital world, threats are more diverse, insidious, and fast-moving than they used to be. When I asked 1,600 Bitcoiners about their fears, the second most common one was government seizure.
It’s easy to see why more than a quarter of people thought this. For one thing, there are the well-publicized crypto crackdowns in places like China. US also took people’s assets like gold during the Great Depression because they didn’t have enough money to pay their bills. The risk of government seizure is more than just a thought.
A lot of people said that the biggest threat to users’ Bitcoins is actually if they lose them by accident, which is what I often say. Because Bitcoin is more complicated than other types of digital security, Bitcoin users have to deal with governments and their own forgetfulness, which makes the risk landscape even more complicated.
A lot of things are complicated about how to keep things safe. The real threat to people’s coins (and how to fix it) can be explained in one word: usability.
Security should be easy to understand, so it should be easy to
This security challenge-solution was perfectly encapsulated in a recent Reddit post that talked about it.
“People who use the internet are not ‘internet enthusiasts’ they don’t care about learning about the tech, they just want to use the internet in a seamless and easy way. When crypto goes mainstream it’ll be exactly the same as that for 99.9% of all users.”
People who used Bitcoin before it was popular didn’t care about how simple it was. They used digital asset security best practises like self-custody and multisignature security right away. A lot more people use Bitcoin these days, but a lot fewer know how to keep their money safe, even if they understand the threats they face.
I don’t need to explain what this means: More people will put their money at risk by keeping their coins on an exchange or by storing passwords and seed phrases online. These could hurt people’s investments, but the bigger problem is what a big loss would do to people’s confidence and participation in the revolution. This could happen through theft, confiscation, or even an accident.
In spite of the fact that self-custody and multisig are the best way to protect against everything from a malicious attack to forgetfulness, this is still the case. The technology is there and has been proven. Everyone who works with Bitcoin has the same problem: how to make it simple and easy for them to use.
How well our industry helps people achieve Bitcoin’s main principles of decentralisation and user education isn’t in line with how well we are helping people achieve them. Those who don’t own their Bitcoin keys don’t own it. But users are encouraged to give up control of their Bitcoin, which makes the coins more vulnerable to attack.
The answer is clear: The industry should spend a lot more time and money teaching people how to use their products. Yes, and no. In terms of general principles, like why you should keep your Bitcoin in your own hands and why you should protect it like it’s worth an order of magnitude more than it is now, there’s a lot more to be done.
But, why should you have to learn about how to protect your Bitcoin in order to use it? People are the weakest link in any chain, and the more complicated the security system is, the more people don’t pay attention to it.
It doesn’t matter if Bitcoin’s new users can protect themselves from the threats they face. Instead, the real question is whether they can. To ask when our industry will do what it should have done from the start: make multisig self-custody as simple, frictionless, and intuitive as possible. There should have been little to learn about multisig self-custody. If we can figure out that riddle, we’ll be able to keep the revolution alive for every generation to come.
Disclaimer: These are the writer’s opinions and should not be considered investment advice. Readers should do their own research.