Technologist and software developer Rhian Lewis has been involved in the blockchain space for many years. Rhian, who is also the author of “The Cryptocurrency Revolution,” is dedicated to educating people about bitcoin. She was behind an early initiative to encourage more women to learn about how to operate in the crypto space.
Rhian came across bitcoin in 2013, at which time she became really excited about the space and its potential. She started dabbling in trading though it was before the exchange infrastructure was built out the way it is today.
(2:07) “It was a bit kind of ad-hoc,” she said.
Rhian is a bit of a pioneer. In 2014, before Blockfolio even existed, Rhian and some friends launched their own cryptocurrency portfolio tracker to keep track of what they had on exchanges. It wasn’t long before she became immersed in the community on Crypto Twitter and started going to industry meetups. She moved from London to Germany for a while, which is where she joined a group for women in bitcoin at a time when there were very few women in the space. After that she returned to London and set up London women in bitcoin, which started out as a social event and evolved into featuring speakers.
At that point, Rhian started thinking more about the technical side of things on the Ethereum front and starting dabbling in smart contracts. Eventually, she became an instructor on an Ethereum course and was constantly getting peppered with questions from people wanting to learn about bitcoin. So she decided to write a book, “The Cryptocurrency Revolution,” which came out a few months ago.
(5:04) “I see my focus as being somebody who is still desperately trying to spread the message of education so that people know what they’re doing when they get involved in the crypto space. Because as we know there are lots of scams around and I think it’s really important that people understand the fundamentals of what makes bitcoin especially such a powerful force while at the same time not falling into the trap of saying ‘you should go out and buy bitcoin.’ I think the whole do-your-own-research meme, DYOR, is so, so, so important,” said Rhian, adding that educating people is the first step.
You Say You Want a Revolution
For Rhian, crypto is a revolution. At first, what drew her to the space was the idea of freedom of payments and being able to send money or transfer value to somebody without having to go through the inefficient legacy banking system. She also became passionately interested in remittances, where companies were extracting so much value from the payments that people who were often unbanked and poor were making to friends and relatives in other countries. Without some kind of P2P payments system, she said, people are completely at the mercy of the banking system.
Her other motivation was hyperinflation, from what happened in Germany in the 1930s to the present day with so much money printing going on. Another motivation has been the repressive activity in jurisdictions like Belarus or Hong Kong where protestors have had their bank accounts shuttered by governments.
(8:24) “Freedom of payments is still really important,” said Rhian.
A worrying development is the idea of governments creating and launching their own programmable money and the convenience of this driving out people’s will to use a properly decentralized cryptocurrency. China and many other governments around the world are already launching their own central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), which will work in a similar way to bitcoin and Ethereum. The concern, however, is that these will become the default.
And even though CBDCs aren’t programmable yet, governments in the future could have the ability to issue fully programmable currencies. This opens up the door to the possibility of a total authoritarian future where people’s money is not their own that they can save and spend how they want.
Educating the Masses on Scams
Educating the masses on cryptocurrency scams is very difficult. Bitcoiners love their memes, such as “number go up.” And no matter how often you tell people that the least interesting thing about bitcoin is the price, they never want to believe it. People want to believe they have a lottery ticket, Rhian said, adding that it gives them hope.
When some people think of cryptocurrencies, they think of the Ponzi scheme OneCoin, which wasn’t even a legitimate cryptocurrency. But because people so desperately want to believe, they are willing to suspend their disbelief and fall for something like this.
(17:49) “It’s unfortunately in a way that this is the sort of thing that makes the headlines…Boiler room scams are so common in every sector that people are continually getting scammed by people selling all kinds of schemes. But when it’s crypto, it really, really hits the headlines. Maybe that’s not a bad thing because it makes people a little more cautious,” said Rhian.
Her function is to try and make the bitcoin story interesting and compelling rather than something that’s really difficult to understand.
Crypto Going Corporate
Since Rhian has been in the bitcoin space, the industry has become more corporate, and that’s not such a bad thing. It used to be a novelty to have people show up from major banks at crypto meetups. By 2016, the banks were saying that blockchain was beautiful but they didn’t want anything to do with bitcoin.
Now you have huge industry conferences, not just meetups, with tens of thousands of people in attendance from every institution and government department you could imagine showing an interest.
(24:54) “It’s a huge shift in terms of acceptance,” said Rhian, adding: “The corporatization and the institutionalization is a really big thing.”
Women in Bitcoin Meetups
These days, Rhian is more interested in communicating to people via talking on an individual level, through her book or writing code than she is in hosting meetups. But in terms of women feeling excluded in crypto, since the early days, it may have just been a perception thing more than anything else.
Women were trading and mining back then but they may not have been interested in going out and drinking beer to talk about it. Just because they weren’t visible in the community doesn’t mean they weren’t there. And the idea of a crypto community is weird because it’s a technology, Rhian said, adding:
(43:15) “I think there are a whole lot of tribes. I think it’s a very tribal ecosystem. I think people want to think it’s a community. But the reality is that it’s a technology, it’s a financial market. There are people who are drawn to this and form their own community, whether that’s on social media or in real life.”
There are several exciting themes in the cryptocurrency space, including companies developing products and solutions for which bitcoin is the underlying player, such as second-layer and sidechains for the Bitcoin network. Also, from an economic perspective, the parallel system of a token economy, or tokenomics, is emerging. Over the past several years, it has transformed the power to do things in conjunction with other major technologies such as IoT and data.