Colm O'Regan: What does cryptocurrency have to do with the Kilkenny hurlers?

view original post

My mother had it right. She was talking about the Internet one day about fifteen years ago. By then, the Internet was just becoming ubiquitous, seeping into nearly all conversations. Not because people were necessarily talking about the Internet at that moment but it was in the background of almost every subject. A bit like the weather. Now it’s more like oxygen. We’re not even aware we’re using it.

After some chat between us about Some Online Thing, my mother sighed: “I have a better hope of understanding the Mystery of the Trinity than understanding the Internet”. I was all set to jump in with: “No Mama, you see it’s quite simple. It’s just a computer network, and when you type an address into the web browser it makes a request for the page and then the information is routed through a messaging protocol…” I ran out of steam but I believed I sort of knew how it worked. Back then I couldn’t understand why someone wouldn’t make an effort to figure out what was going on.

The arc of the moral universe is long, yet it bends inevitably towards young people who eventually understand what their parents meant. And sure enough, these days I encounter things that make me think: “I don’t even know if I know how little I know about that thing.” Things like NFTs and cryptocurrency. They have now started to infiltrate conversations. I start to meet more people who understand it but my brain refuses to make space for it, and I’m starting to wonder if I should just start studying the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.

I know a bit. I know that cryptocurrency is not the money you’ve saved for a really expensive grave underneath a cathedral. 

I know that it’s somehow mined by a computer and there’s a limited amount and …er… 

Oh, and I know that an NFT is digital proof that you own a digital thing like a video or a picture of a cartoon ape, and yes, someone else could still see the video and the ape but when you own it you can trade it and … er… 

But maybe it’s just because I’m not familiar with it. Isn’t all currency a bit weird when you think about it? The filthy emergency fiver in your pocket that no matter where you take it out in the European Union can get a Snickers. And lookit isn’t an NFT just like owning an original painting or an original Panini Sticker from 1982. It all depends on what people are willing to pay.

But still, the whole thing feels like another dimension. Alien. It’s just not sticking in my brain.

It feels inevitable though that it will have to stick. All This Crypto Stuff seems to be edging closer and closer. The GAA is apparently getting interested in it. When I heard that I was joking that maybe some Kilkenny hurler would start a cryptocurrency called Mooncoin. But then it turns out they can’t because Mooncoin already exists. Now, crypto stuff and NFTs may turn out to be either a steaming pile of PooCoin or As Common As Weather.

But I’m more interested in how easy it is, as time goes on, to get cross about something that doesn’t fit my existing worldview. When a new concept comes along after I felt I’d found my place in the world, I’m immediately hostile to it. “How dare the world come up with new stuff without asking me?” My mother dallied briefly with the Internet but in the end, lives fairly contentedly without it. So when the new mad-looking yokes come along and I’m baffled, maybe I’ll do the same.