Why Boomers Don’t Trust Bitcoin (And How I Convince Them To Open Their Minds)
This is an opinion editorial by Dan Weintraub, an author and high school teacher who first became interested in Bitcoin while teaching economics.
Trust is a funny thing. Generationally speaking, one could make the argument that it is the job of the younger generation to essentially tell us older folks to go fly a kite (perhaps in more raw terms, and metaphorically of course) when it comes to our values, our norms, our advice, etc. Music provides an apt cultural landscape on which to view this tension.
The Same Old Song
In every generation, emerging and evolving musical forms have been decried by the older, traditional set as being bad music, noise, even not music at all. In the late 1950s, Walter Cronkite referred to jazz as “musical noise,” and his words were not offered as praise. Rockabilly of the 1950s was surely detested by many in the traditional country community. The music of the Summer Of Love was rejected by many parents who likely embraced jazz and bebop. Punk rockers were undoubtedly met with blank stares and utter contempt by their hippie parents, and rap continues to be the object of musical scorn the world over. The point is clear: Tradition hates innovation, mostly because tradition doesn’t understand innovation and feels threatened by this new iteration. And yet, the truth remains; it’s all just music.
Here’s where things get a bit complicated.
It’s one thing to not understand, dislike, even personally reject something new. It’s another thing entirely to discredit the new, to actively fight against the new, to try and destroy the new. And within that effort to destroy and to bury the new form of expression, those seeking to kill off the new thing will, in their rather tired and sad desperation, create false narratives and stories to rationalize their adherence to traditional ways. Unfortunately, these narratives can become so powerful, that they lead to the development of institutions and movements guided entirely by falsehood, led by self-serving and power-hungry zealots, armed with all of the cultural weaponry that tradition has at its disposal; shameless and conscienceless, these forces will often go to extreme lengths to kill the thing that they have decided, in their self-concerned ignorance, is evil.
As much as I hope that, somewhere far in the future, such destructive and reductive forces can be disempowered by truth-informed mechanisms like the Bitcoin protocol, I am not holding my breath. But in the present, the power of verification — that very thing that makes Bitcoin such a revolutionary moment — can be leveraged by the Bitcoin community as a way to bridge the generational gap, to push back against the narratives that baby boomers and others embrace in their rejection of Bitcoin, and to move the protocol adoption curve forward.
My Bitcoin Pitch To Fellow Boomers
Here’s my point:
My generation (I’m a youthful 61) has many qualms with Bitcoin. Some of these concerns are valid (old people hate volatility), while others are informed by entirely false narratives and prejudices. And just like with the musical examples above, so many of these false narratives are incredibly difficult to disarm; for embedded within these rejections of something new there exists a desperate clinging to something understandable, something empowering, something unifying in its self-righteous disgust and self-concentered defensiveness.
Now granted, I’m a boomer, so I have a little more natural validity when I speak with my peers about Bitcoin. I’m not the AirPods-wearing, yoga-mat-toting, entirely-self-absorbed and personal-development-obsessed millennial who my generation loathes so very much (wry smile). But even such affinity does not get me far with Bitcoin. Rejection narratives come hot and they come quickly: environmental degradation, dark web currency, gambling casinos that make TikTok’ers rich, etc.
My strategy in pushing back against these arguments goes back to music:
“Look,” I say “You may be right. Bitcoin may be energy intensive and not helpful to the environment. Bitcoin may be used by scammers and defrauders as part of their schemes to get rich. Bitcoin may be the currency, or one of the currencies, of a generation of social-media heads, people who you hold in such contempt. This may all be true. But I would argue three things: One, that you are embracing arguments that you have heard but have not investigated yourself; Two, that you are basing your hatred and rejection of Bitcoin not on the merits of Bitcoin, but on the way Bitcoin shows up in the world (just like our parents rejected our music, because it came with long hair and blue jean jackets); And three, that you are rejecting Bitcoin because you don’t understand it, which is so very much what all older generations do about shit they don’t get.”
And then I say this:
“There’s one thing about Bitcoin that makes it different from anything else in the world, and that is the dynamic of verification. Ignore all of the other stuff just for a second, if you can. I am entirely willing to stipulate that, after you do your own research and after you challenge your own prejudices toward those yucky millennials (another wry smile) that you may still reject Bitcoin, but hear me out on this one thing, this one really cool and rather revolutionary element of Bitcoin: Unlike every other human interaction in the world, Bitcoin does not ask us to put our blind trust in anyone else. No one owns it or controls it, so we’re not being asked to trust the words and deeds of bankers or government officials or scammers or anyone; no one can hack it (take some time to learn about why), so it is, even in its volatility as an investment, the most secure network of all time; and no can destroy it, because it is software that runs on millions of computers, all of which are verifying each and every transaction that takes place.”
And then this:
“Look, I’m not saying you should invest in bitcoin. And lord knows that in a world replete with greedy people and liars, bitcoin is just as apt to be used by these people as are dollars or gold or real estate or whatever gets them rich. And truth be known, millennials make me roll my eyes as well. But you know what, that’s my generational B.S. It’s my own crap. Just like my parents shook their heads at my Grateful Deadness and my punk rockness, I shake my head toward millennials. But that rigidity and silliness shouldn’t inform my views about an emerging monetary technology and protocol. If it does, then I am guilty of the very thing that we blamed our parents for being guilty of 40 years ago. I don’t want to be part of yet another anti-intellectual generation that rejects stuff it doesn’t understand, or that embraces false narratives about things because those are the narratives we are exposed to the most.”
And then my closing:
“All I’m asking is that you take a moment and consider what a world in which verification of truth, rather than trusting someone else’s words, might look like. For example, bitcoin and the Bitcoin network could have totally ended all of the stuff about stolen elections, because within this realm of verification there exists the ability to validate and verify each and every transaction (every vote) beyond any doubt. Also, with the Bitcoin network and protocol, you can say goodbye to things like identity theft and credit card scams and being double charged for stuff you didn’t buy; because with Bitcoin every, every, every transaction is verified on an entirely secure network by tens of thousands of computers running unhackable software. And the thing is, there are so many examples of how verification could make the world in which we live so much better, because when we can verify stuff then we end up trusting the whole process. So all I’m asking is to do a little investigation about this thing before you reject it; you may find, despite yourself, that as you get it more, your appreciation for it changes.”
We live in a world in which trust is an ever-diminishing construct. As I noted in my first two pieces in this series, as trust continues to erode, we, as a species, are in increasing trouble and distress. I totally grok why my generation doesn’t trust Bitcoin. But I also get that our mistrust is informed by false narratives, by petty prejudices, and by a tenacious adherence to things we understand and know. The thing about Bitcoin that makes it so novel, and so elegant, is that the protocol, by way of example, cuts through all of the falsehood. This I feel is the most powerful thing about Bitcoin, and this I feel is a route toward bringing more and more people into the fold.
Virtually everyone on the planet, boomers included, is concerned about the direction we are heading as a species. And at the heart of this fear is the fact that we can’t trust anything anymore. Bitcoin changes this through its inviolable verification mechanism. It begins with money, property, assets. Who knows where it ends.
This is a guest post by Dan Weintraub. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.
12 June 2023 12:00