The Endless ThreadTeam is excited to announce Tales from the Crypto – three windows into the wild world that is cryptocurrency. It’s a landscape ripe for investors, gamblers, opportunists, and academic investigators — both online and offline. Producers and hosts reached out to experts to help them navigate the complex and constantly changing terrain.
The series’ first installment features co-hosts Ben Brock Johnson, Amory Sivertson, and a viral tweet about NFTs helping Ukrainians in the war effort against Russia. They also discuss plans for a crypto paradise, which was never intended.
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This content was originally intended to be audio. This transcript has been transcribed from our original script. Some elements (e.g. Some elements (e.g. music, sound effects and tone, etc. These are more difficult to translate into words.
Ben Brock Johnson: Were your there on the morning of February 27th 2022?
Amory Sivertson (Laughs.
Jathan Sadowski: (Laughs. This is a fantastic deposition right now.
Amory: Ben, Ben, and I are interviewing Jathan Madowski.
I have every reason for believing that you were on twitter.
Jathan: I tweeted something that drove a lot of people crazy.
Ben: Ah yes, the thrill of starting the social media outrage machine. Like the Mad Hatter’s first cup of tea in the morning. Loki — God of mischief — swingin’ his legs out of bed.
Amory: What topic was Jathan going tweet about and live in infamy of? Not his opinion on the new Amazon Lord of the RingsGuacamole made with peas and TV series. Don’t do that, guys. It isn’t The Dress. No. Jathan was about to tweet about the most popular topic in Elon Musk’s tweet replies.
Ben: What do you know? Crypto.
Jathan: Ukraine has the opportunity to issue NFTs that commemorate unique and important moments in the conflict. This is an alternative to selling war bonds. These NFTs can also be sold to finance defense and build community. Web3 is native to World War III. The winner will embrace decentralized networks’ power.
Ben: You can probably divide the people who read and heard Jathan’s tweet into two categories: people who understand terms like NFT and Web3 native and decentralized networks. People like Amory.
Amory: (Laughs.) You know, that’s fair. But that’s not all. I’m an expert. I’m not an expert. I’m crawling my way towards competency now.
Ben: (Laughs.) Yes, I do. So it’s kind of. Experts and non-experts on the various vagaries of cryptocurrency seemed to equally love Jathan’s comment about using crypto to support Ukraine though.
Amory: His tweet reached high-levels because he tweeted it.
Jathan: The tweet lost in my personal, you know, Twitter part where people know me, at some point. It was picked up by YouTubers with hundreds and thousands of followers.
Amory: This was where the problems started. Jathan was lying.
Ben: That’s totally a lie. He didn’t — and doesn’t — actually think that cryptocurrency — or the many technologies that the concept of digital currency has birthed — should really be involved in wars. In fact,
Amory said: I would like to do some association. You say “crypto”When I use the word cryptocurrency
Amory: I’m NFT Sivertson. Do you really want that to happen?
Ben: Yeah! Yeah!
What does Amory mean to you?
Ben: I’m Bitcoin Johnson. And you’re listening to Endless Thread.
Amory: We’re coming to you from WBUR, Boston’s NPR Station.
And for the next few weeks, we’re bringing you a few key stories on that big hairy, volatile, topic of crypto.
Ben: Could we show you how to invest in crypto?
Ben: Is this a definitive guide to crypto?
Amory: No. No, no, no, no.
Ben: It’s three windows into how wild and bizarre things are in the cryptoverse. What will we call our miniseries, you ask?
Amory: The Bitcoin Blues
Ben: The Dao Te…Ch-Ching?
Amory: Block…chain party?
Ben: How about…Tales from the Crypto!
Amory: Today’s episode: Crypto Crazy. It’s so hard to tell the difference between the hype or the concept right now.
Cryptocurrency is a huge topic. It’s also a highly technical, complex mathematical, mind-bendingly hard to explain technology.
Ben: That’s why Jathan was among the first people we reached out.
Jathan: Hi, I’m Jathan Sadowski. I’m a senior research associate in the Emerging Technologies Research Lab at Monash University. Although I currently live in Melbourne, Australia I am originally from Mississippi, the United States.
Ben: Senior research fellow, emerging technologies lab…what does that mean?
Jathan: I’m very interested in trying to understand new technologies, you know, not just in the sense that they emerged from nowhere, but really paying attention to those questions of why are new technologies being created? Who is responsible for this creation? Right? You can then understand their bigger implications on society and our daily lives.
Amory: See? Great guy to have a chat about crypto. Because If you’re like us, you’re probably a little bewildered trying to follow the news.
Anchor 1: The sex industry is turning to crypto.
Anchor 2: Talking about the falling prices for Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs that have been dominating the market.
Anchor 3: Joining us now to talk about whether these headlines are indicating if we’re emerging from the crypto winter.
Announcer 1: I want to give you this video because some people are lying to you about what’s happening in the market right now.
Announcer 2: Crypto Kitties is a blockchain-based game that runs on Ethereum.
Woman 1: I’m a shake my ass if you get over here to shake my ass.
Man 1: It’s your NFT.
Woman 1: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
(Cat meow sound.)]
Ben: He didn’t know it, but Jathan, a guy doing research and sometimes tweeting inside jokes about that research, was about to become a part of the news. Step one: make a joke that both crypto enthusiasts and converts will retweet without knowing it’s satire, and your friends will retweet because it’s satire, and others will ask if you’re okay.
Jathan: You hit it so hard that even a little doubt was left. I know. I know.
Amory 2 (Watch your tweet go viral. People will beg you to share your ideas.
Jathan: Jathan is, in other words, you like Jathan know,This thing will not be created by making fun of it.
Ben: What’s the third step? Oh no.
Jathan: And then, just a few more days later I happened upon, um… Financial TimesHad a headlineThat’s what it says “Ukraine plans to issue NFT collection to fund armed forces. Kiev moves further in embracing digital assets to raise money for the war.”When I saw this headline, I took a screenshot of my original post as well as a screenshot taken from the Financial Times headline. I then compared them, and said: “Well, what can you say?”I am deeply sorry and accept full accountability.
Amory: It’s a reminder to all that this show is about the blurred line between online communities and the real-world. And a reminder that cynicism and satire aside raising money to resist Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a completely understandable response.
Jathan: I can’t blame anyone in Ukraine for using their tools to generate lots of money and donations out of nothing.
Ben: But for the most part, Jathan says his research tells him that the kind of money floating around the growing crypto universe isn’t going to help Ukraine resist the Russian invasion. Another cause most would agree upon is a “good cause.” It’s more about general speculation.
Amory states: In other words, it’s certain. The Ukraine thing could help raise money for war efforts. But your average example of investing in crypto currency isn’t about saving lives. More often it’s about getting involved in a scheme.
Ben: That could sound like a great idea. It could be something Jathan would be more interested in.
Jathan: This theory can be called the theory of Greater Fools. Right. It’s the idea that if I purchase this thing for $10,000 and this NFT for $10,000, then there will be a greater fool down in the future. He’ll buy it off me for $12,000, then they’ll find somebody to purchase it for $15,000. It doesn’t stop there. It’s not a solid way to build an economy.
Amory says: Time out. A crypto glossary is almost necessary. NFTs? Web3? Blockchain? Woof.
Ben: Woof is not a crypto term.
Amory: I get what you mean. Woof to all of that!
Ben: Yeah. A glossary would be a good idea. A glossary is a good idea. Before we get too deep into Elon Musk’s crypto bot Twitter mentions.
Amory, please do not allow us to access that section on the Internet. Let’s stick closer to home for WBUR. Let’s hear from Neha Narula.
Neha Narula: I am Director of the Digital Currency Initiative. It is based in the Media Lab at MIT. I live in Cambridge Massachusetts.
Ben: Neha is less skeptical than Jathan. Or, at the very minimum, in a different academic field.
Neha: The Digital Currency Initiative, an association of software developers as well as cryptographers, is Neha. It works on digital currency technology.
Amory – Neha is doing this job for a simple reason.
Neha: Money is what makes the universe turn around. Our economy, our financial system, you see, people make decisions about their lives and where they live based on how much they have. It was amazing to me. Technology was something I believed in until then. As I was going down the rabbithole, I realized how powerful technology combined with money can be.
Ben: Jathan could probably understand that last bit. Okay. Here it is, folks. It’s the essential, the mandatory, the thing we public radio journalists love to do or get over and again, because it is something that we all need. The question “What is a crypto currency?”Answered.
Neha: Cryptocurrency lets you change bits on millions upon millions of computers around the globe. That’s it.
Amory: Is that it?
Neha: It’s sometimes called a Ponzi scheme. It’s a thing that has no value unless people believe it does. This is true for many other items around the globe. It’s not a unique phenomenon, however.
Ben: Gold can also be true.
Neha: Yeah. Yeah.
Amory: The Housing Market.
Ben: And sandwiches.
Amory: Ben I’m not sure how you got to sandwiches but that statement seemed to suggest to Neha that she needed to take another swing at it.
Neha: It’s a network of computers around the world that runs software. It tracks currency movements and allows people the ability to move them around. This software is unique because it does not have a government or a bank. There is no backing. It’s just a network of computers that are being managed by humans all over the globe. This is how people get together in a group to discuss the accounting behind new currency, a new accounting system, and a new ledger.
Ben: The idea behind cryptocurrency and the technologies surrounding it has been around since a long time. This idea of digital credit. Computer money. It can be called anything you want.
Qui-Gon Jinn: I have 20 thousand Republic daktaris.
Watto: Republic credits? Republic credits are no good out here, I need something more real.
Qui-Gon: I don’t have anything else but credits will do fine.
Watto: No, they won’t.
Qui-Gon: Credits will do fine.
Watto: No, they won’t!]
Ben: Jedi mind tricks don’t always work. It can feel like a Jedi mind trick. It can feel like crypto has been around for a while.
Amory: But unless you’re talking about the process of getting your credit card information onto the internet so you can use it or hackers can steal it, et cetera. Digital currency was a long-held scifi dream for many years.
Neha: In 2008, this message was sent to the mailing list from someone named Satoshi Nakamoto. We don’t know Satoshi Nakamoto. We don’t know if this is a he, she, or they. Satoshi posted on the list with an idea for a new cryptocurrency called Bitcoin. This was a very interesting combination of ideas from ecash, computer science, and computer systems. They’ve never been combined in this manner before.
Ben: This is where you get Bitcoin. This took the idea for digital currency and combined it to create a finite resource. One that could be mined. Similar to gold and silver. With computing power. This is a well-known part of the idea at this stage. Though the fact that we still don’t know the inventor of bitcoin is concerning to me.
Amory: Same. However, the beginning days were a bit sleepy. What can you do about an invented currency which exists only in the form of computer bits?
Neha: What happened then? I believe it was 2010/2012. Reddit user Neha stated that he wanted Bitcoin to purchase something.
Amory: Reddit. We try to escape, but it pulls at us back in. Every time.
Ben: (Laughs.) Truth. Every night I have to be like that’s enough interneting for me today. Yes. Neha claims that the first Bitcoin transaction took place on Reddit. Can you guess the items that were purchased and sold using Bitcoins?
Amory: The first person to tweet your correct guess at us, that’s at Endless Underscore Thread, we will send you some of the correct answer. Seriously. Tweet at us and we’ll send you some of the first non-Bitcoin commodity bought via Bitcoin.
Ben: But it took off. It was quickly followed closely by other currencies. Ethereum. Dogecoin.
Neha: People started making copies of Bitcoins all around the globe. (Laughs.) There were many copies. There is a financial incentive. You can create a copy of this coin and then mine your own coins to make a lot of it. If you can convince people it’s worth something like it is the new Bitcoin, then it will rise in price and you’ll have a lot of money. This has happened repeatedly. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bitcoins.
Amory: Suddenly I’m reminded of Jathan’s reference to the Greater Fools theory.
Ben: Yeah, but it’s also true that there’s been this explosion of technologies from this. They can also be used to do dumb things, as are most technologies. But they can also serve smart purposes. That’s why people are excited for instance about not just bitcoin. NFTs are also possible.
Neha: You can have very different non-fungible tokens. You want to create a digital currency that isn’t completely interchangeable. It’s unique. It’s something.
Amory: The best thing I think we’ve heard about NFTs to explain what they are is that they’re like POGs. Remember POGs. Or baseball cards. Tradeable, unique, digital items. It can be used to pay artists and to seperate people from their cash.
Ben: NFTs can also be traded and are unique digital products. It can help artists get compensated. And also…separate people from their money. You must take the good with the bad.
Are you still a slave for amory
Are you a believer of crypto currency as the future money and future economy? So, how far is this possible?
Ben: The future of everything Amory.
Amory: That’s all I need to know. I am not. I have zero interest. I am interested in crypto to learn more about it and see how people use it. My interest in crypto is based upon the question. “Do I need to be interested? Do I really need to do this? Is it necessary to get rid of my cash?
Neha: Yes, you do need to get on board the crypto train. So, if I was to be asked that question a few decades ago, I would have replied, “I don’t know, it could go any way.”Perhaps this is the beginning. It could not. It’s possible. Keep going. Learn the details. Find out if you find it useful. But now, I see that this train isn’t slowing down. This train is moving at an incredible speed. This train is slowly infiltrating all things.
Ben: She’s right. Anyone who was watching the Superbowl saw all those crypto commercials.
Actress: We’re putting a man on the moon.
Larry David: Are you out of your mind? I can’t even get tuna without celery! No one’s going to the moon…ever!
Actor: Like I said, it’s FTX. It’s a safe and easy way to get into crypto.
Larry: I don’t think so. And I’m never wrong about this stuff. Ever.]
Twitter is abuzz about NFTs. Neha stated that crypto is being used in all aspects of life, from microloans and online privacy protection.
Neha: I think cryptocurrency does something really valuable. It is reshaping internet platforms, our data privacy, data portability and data ownership. That’s what I find really fascinating.
Amory says: It’s possible that this is a good thing because so many people have lost their life savings after investing in cryptocurrency and then getting hacked. Or their third-party service being hacked. These stories are all over internet. Still. Neha says…
Neha: It’s not impossible for something to be overhyped while being underhyped.
Ben: One the best examples of the latter. Maybe. Is the weirdest, truly weirdest thing I’ve seen on late night TV recently, on The Tonight Show with Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon.
Amory: Was it about NFT Bored Apes being sold? This is a collection of ape images that were minted into custom NFTs.
Paris Hilton: Well, If you love it so much I want to give you the first one.
Jimmy Fallon: I would be honored.
Paris: And I want to give one to everyone in the audience…
Jimmy: Everyone gets an NFT?! What!? Come on. I think this is the first NFT giveaway in the history of television! We love you!]
Ben: If you think a commercial for digital images in the content of a late night show in which both the host and the guest are basically hawking crypto technology is weird…
It is indeed, Amory. This is how you get from something that went horribly wrong.
Ryan Broderick Fyre Festival is an example. What if influential people owned their own island. We all know the ending.
Ben: Crypto’s version of Fyre Fest, in a minute.
Amory: Okay. For this next bit, we’re going to go to Tales From The Crypto Part One, guest three.
Ryan BroderickRyan Broderick is the name of my pseudonym. Garbage Day, a newsletter I publish about web culture, is called my name. A podcast called The Content Minds is also produced by me. It’s also about technology.
Ben: Ryan’s a friend of the pod. He’s been on before. And he’s deep into the world of crypto. He’s got lots of examples. Good examples and…yikes.
Ryan: I did see a dating app only for NFT owners the other day, so that’s, that’s about as grim as you can get, I think.
Ben: I believe that there will be a you’re optimistic one.
Ryan: Well, I’ve joined it. And now I’m very excited to be there.
Amory, What do you think of when you hear the word cryptocurrency?
Amory said: This is how to get to Cryptoland. But first, we need to find our way to the island. Another glossary term. DAO. Decentralized Autonomous Organization
Ryan: Let’s take a look at a typical corporate structure that a company uses or a startup uses. Imagine this if it existed on a chat platform such as Discord. Instead of buying shares, you could buy tokens. These tokens are tiny pieces of code on blockchain that signify ownership. An idea can be enough to start a DAO. If you can get enough people to buy tokens they can share or sell between themselves, you can quickly raise a lot money.
Ben: A DAO that appeared in early 2015 appeared mysteriously and at a very fast pace. It was for Cryptoland. Its meteoric rise to prominence and subsequent fall is quite an interesting story.
Ben: We can cross-leggedly sat down at your feet to listen to what you have to say about Cryptoland.
Ryan: So Cryptoland was a… a great idea. (Laughs.) No…
Ben: It was a very, very long time ago.
Ryan: Cryptoland, an organization of Web3 developers was a terrible idea. They decided to sell timeshares in Fiji on an uninhabited island. They created a prospectus and advertised various opportunities in crypto-related real property that people could invest.
Amory: Now. These Web3 developers are experts at it. Wait. Web3…
Ben: This is supposedly a new version of the world wide web. We’re in Web2 right now. Web3 is, according to many, a decentralized version of the web powered by all the cool technologies based around cryptocurrency.
Amory: Right, right, right. These Web3 developers created a DAO. Decentralized Autonomous organisation. And that organization was going to buy an Fiji island.
Ryan: Ryan, I was astonished to see that there were multiple versions. They all have different states.
Ben: It’s a tale that has been around since the beginning of time. In a way. It’s like this: My friends and I would like to purchase an island that’s going to be awesome because it’s going be awesome. Right?
Ben: It feels like I’ve done that before. It was probably when I was around 11.
Ben: But, this idea got really big.
The marketing video also included talk about Internet cringelike.
Ryan: This was the most disgusting thing you’ve ever seen. That was I mean, there are a lot of bad videos on the Internet, but this one had a talking Bitcoin walking around…
“Sir, welcome to Cryptoland!”]
…and it was animated and it was all about I mean, it just it just showed like a really grim, a really grim view of life. Imagine living in a tech convention every day. This is a good example.
Amory: It was very dark. It was also strange. Tech conference feels right. But what about video games?
Ben: You know when they’re doing a tour of the self-contained theme park facilities in various Jurassic Park movies and you get this feeling that something is definitely, seriously, wrong? It was kinda like that.
[Cryptoland video audio:
“All the other King Cryptolanders have been arriving from all corners of the world. When we get to the Blockchain Hills, you’ll understand what we mean by first class crypto lifestyle, man!”]
Ben: Cryptoland was allegedly Max Oliver’s and Helena Lopez’s brainchild. The project manager represented the interests of a hotel group.
Amory: The video promised 60 parcels of land in Blockchain Hills, all which could be purchased using NFTs. The Vladimir Club is a reference a crypto legend’s online user who bought enough bitcoin to become a millionaire over 100 times. It was created by crypto-heads. It offers 360-degree views overlooking the ocean and a whole economy that is entirely powered by crypto.
Ben: Crypto was everywhere. The cringe was also everywhere.
Amory – There’s a strange, like Grease-inspired reimagining in there. Do you guys still remember that part?
Ryan: I don’t know why it happened that way. All musicals. It was Grease. I just don’t get it.
[Cryptoland video audio, in the tune of “You’re the One That I Want” from Grease:
“I don’t want to leave. I feel like it all. Crypto is in my chromosomes!”]
Amory! Your marketing video might be off-target. This was for people who love new technologies that can create millions of digital currency. So, it’s got to take a little more than that to take out the concept of CryptoLand, the cryptocurrency utopian island of Fiji.
Ben: True. Remember Ryan’s association of bitcoin with Libertarians in his tweets? One problem with crypto is the possibility that digital currencies could be linked to fringe politics. You may have heard people speak of communism as great in theory, but terrible in practice. This category includes crypto enthusiasts. Even anarchists. There are also areas where these types of political ideas don’t have great answers.
Ryan: Things spiralled out of control when a Twitter troll discovered that the situation. He sent a tweet to the Cryptoland Twitter account asking what the island’s age consent laws were. This is common internet trolling for all libertarian communities. If you don’t want your free-market enthusiasts to become disorganized, and you don’t want them to be told what to do by the government then you can ask them their ideal age for consent law. This was exactly what happened with Cryptoland. The Twitter account tweeted something to the effect that their…they wouldn’t discriminate in terms of age, with like a winky face. Later it was discovered that the Twitter account manager didn’t speak English at all and didn’t understand what they were asking.
Ben: It didn’t matter if that was a valid excuse. The Cryptoland community became a shouting match between people who were horrified at the lack of an age for consent and those who wondered why.
Amory’s Cryptoland was a failure just like Fyre Fest. It was a dumpster explosion. The island, which was listed for 12 million US dollars, wasn’t sold. Still available for purchase.
Ryan: This is a bit disappointing. I believe that blockchain and cryptocurrency, Web3, Web3, and Web3 all have their place. All of this stuff isn’t perfect. There is no perfect technology. But it’s interesting. I’ve spoken with a lot developers who said, “I really wish I could actually play around with this stuff because that would be fun.”However, losing social capital through engaging in public Web3 with crypto and blockchain is too much. It’s so polarizing.
Ben: Neha will experience this in the topsy turvy world of crypto.
Neha: People will be exploited. There will be many frauds. I’m not sure where I stand at this point. It’s impossible to stop it. It is likely that people will invest money in cryptocurrencies that they cannot afford. It is also very risky and they will lose a lot of their money. That said, I’ve only seen use of this technology grow, it’s just, it’s not worth betting against the rise of technology.
Ben: And that’s why a lot of people are betting on the rise of this technology. Small fish, large, schools of fish. They’re swallowing, hook line and sinker.
Amory: While Ryan Broderick is describing how crypto enthusiasts have failed to secure the crypto utopian islands they desire, others are seeing real-world examples where this mentality is taking root. From the little players…
Alex Gladstein – You have to think about the jobs it is bringing. It’s like gentrification on steroids.
To the big ones…
President Nayib Bukele: I will submit a bill that will legalize Bitcoin in El Salvador.
That’s next week on Tales from the Crypto.
Amory: Endless ThreadThis production is produced at WBUR Boston.
Ben: Want early access and bonus content, swag, or events? The coordinates of my crypto island, a picture of Amory’s bored ape? Join our email list! You’ll find it at wbur.org/endlessthread. This episode was written by yours truly, Ben Brock Johnson…
Amory:…and Coproduced and co-hosted By me, Amory SIvertson.
Ben: Editing assistance by Grace Tatter, Nora Saks, Jeb Sharpe and Quincy Walters. Megan Cattel is our web producer. Paul Vaitkus is responsible for sound design and mixing.
Amory: Endless ThreadThis show is about the blurring of the lines between digital communities and tweeting war funding propositions from Blockchain hills. If you’ve got an untold history, an unsolved mystery, or a wild story from the internet that you want us to tell, hit us up. Email Endless Thread to WBUR @ ORG