The complexity is the attraction - reflections on trying to use crypto

A few weeks ago, someone wanted to send me some crypto. After spending months studying for a Blockchain exam, I usually avoid such things. But, hey, $20 is $20.

So I signed up for a wallet, installed an extension, verified my credentials, saved a seed phrase, and - without too much technical fuss - had some crypto transferred to my account.

So far, so good. Compared to a traditional financial institution it had some advantages - there were no KYC checks or ID verification requirements. But the disadvantages were obvious - I had to install a different app on my phone and link it to my computer. The UI for the app and extension were awful. A huge amount of technical jargon was thrown my way - and there were dozens of technical pages to read through all stuffed with yet more jargon, memes, and insider jokes.

It felt sloppy and unprofessional. But, hey, $20 is $20.

Then I tried to withdraw the crypto into something useful. You know, money that I can use to buy goods and services. This, it turned out, was impossible.

I had to install a different extension. Then I had to decide which bridge to use. I popped into Discord chat and said "Hey! I'm new! Which bridge should I use?"

The answer won't surprise anyone who has dealt with cryptocoins.


Here's the thing - I don't want to do any research. When I want to change money with, I just click a button and the cash is converted.

One of the classic web design books is literally called "Don't Make Me Think!" People are busy and tired and stressed and confused and just want their damned money.

I asked again "How do I judge which site is safe and which service I should use?"

The responses were filled with technical jargon, links to 3rd party sites, a list of acronyms, and assumed a huge amount of pre-existing knowledge. When I said "I've only just got started - how do I withdraw money?" I was told to watch a 3 hour YouTube video and / or install yet another extension.

That's when it struck me.

Cryptocurrencies are perfect for people who want to feel smart.

Some people like learning. That's great! But rather that learn something useful, they create ever more complex systems. They become the gatekeepers of rarefied knowledge. A lore so vast and tangled that they can smugly laugh at the smoothbrains who just don't get it. HFSP!!

Right now, in the UK, I can send £0.01 to anyone for free. The transfer is instant. But, more importantly, it is simple. I don't need to learn anything. My friend sends me their account details, I click a button, paste their info, hit a button, and done.

I don't need to know how the underlying infrastructure works. I don't need to understand how the global financial system works. But, with crypto, I need to understand staking, gas fees, bridges, offramps, DeFi, and a dozen other things. This is stupid. It makes insiders feel smart because they have embraced the self-created complexity, and allows them to feel smug that normal people aren't as smart. That's it. That's why some people love crypto.

PayPal solved crypto's fundamental usability problems decades ago. Click here to send money to an email address. Done.

Fifteen years of cryptocurrencies and the usability is still dreadful. Why? Because the people running it are addicted to complexity.

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24 thoughts on “The complexity is the attraction - reflections on trying to use crypto”

  1. mike says:

    Why was the crypto worth $20? If you had managed to convert the crypto currency to actual money you can use in the real world, where would that real world money come from, who would be parting with $20 so that you can acquire $20?

    If you can’t do anything useful with the crypto currency you’ve acquired maybe you could buy some NFTs as a speculative investment. Maybe one day there will be another bubble of NFT delusion and the currency technology will have progressed sufficiently you can use it for something useful and you will be able to sell the NFTs and retire.

  2. @blog

    But rather that learn something useful, they create ever more complex systems

    Yes! I think you've got something important here. I have worked with people like this as well, everything they touch turns into an opaque quagmire that only they understand and can usefully work on. Then they're the defacto expert, on a system that last week a dozen people understood.

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  3. says:

    @blog someone just emailed me saying an ICO is handing out coins to github contributors, did I know I was due for some? If so, he wouldn't mind getting a tip for telling me.

    Conceivably this is a real thing. I thought about it for, oh, 5 seconds. Crypto. New crypto. Offered out of the blue for "free". Best-case possible value a few dollars.

    And filed it in the spam folder. That's the closest I've ever come to using crypto, and hopefully ever will. I get enough excitement holding BRKb shares.

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  4. @blog People have genuinely asked if Crypto is a cult, and there are numerous reasons to conclude that it is.

    It approaches people who feel confused and helpless about something that society treats as obvious, and tells them their confusion comes from realizing that "They" are trying to fool everyone. But you are smart, you have seen through the lies, and you can now be a member of the exclusive group that knows the truth.
    You're still confused, but pretend to agree with your new friends.

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  5. @blog iirc, in 2015 or thereabouts, the

    International CryptoCurrency Conference

    was held in Miami Florida

    and at that time, the cost of a bitcoin transaction, eg BC to US $, was so high that you couldn't pay the conf registration fee in crypto - you had to use regular currency

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  6. says:

    That's a little short of the mark, because cryptocurrency is supposed to not be directly exchangeable for currency. We're spoiled these days by governments printing money all agreeing to destroy their own economy in the name of making their currency exchangeable. You run into the same problem if you buy gold, or wine casks, or cheese wheels. Converting it back into government currency is neither easy nor sure.

    Cryptocurrency is bad for other reasons, like why did you have to "sign up" for an "account"? Why don't they just run off with your money? How long does it take to complete a purchase, and can predatory speculators crash the market before it completes? And how are you generating this currency, with coal-fired data centers off in Bangladesh? Cryptocurrency all comes down to the assumption that burning CPU cycles is a good idea.

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  7. @blog Back in like 2012 when a whole bitcoin was £100, I tried to buy a bitcoin just in case they they ever became valuable. I installed some wallet software, wrote down the super secret key on actual paper, and got ready to waste some money. But after 24 hours of waiting for something to sync - I didn't care enough to remember what - I decided "fuck it".

    Shame really. But then there's no way I would have held it to the peak so it's not like I actually missed out on money.

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  8. Colby says:

    Keybase did it really well. Unfortunately, people with a strong aversion to cryptocurrencies freaked out a little and dumped their accounts when it was integrated, and the whole thing pretty much died within the next year, anyway, when the company was acquired by Zoom early during the pandemic and the team stopped working on anything. I played around with it, and it was pretty neat, especially since they gave everyone some free money, and transactions were super cheap (a fraction of a penny) and instant, instead of on the order of a half an hour or whatever Bitcoin and Ethereum were like at the time.

    Would have been great if in the Spring of 2022 when we were given of the November Twitter revolt/exodus they got the band back together and were ready to take in refugees with their newest to-be-announced development. That was truly a Digg -> Reddit opportunity that nobody really took advantage of to the extent that it could have been.

  9. says:

    @blog I'm sure there is some truth in your conclusion but I don't think that it matters because there are plenty of others trying to find ways to make this easy, because there are potential benefits to everyone.

    But not crypto for crypto's sake. Sure it has some interesting qualities, but you identified a big downside - the disconnect from what most people need. 1/2

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    1. says:

      What if you started with something we do need and found that a token could enable that, and that you could avoid Blockchain and its problems?

      So no need for complex off-ramps for everyone if there is a real world use for a token anyone can earn because it is not Blockchain.

      1,000 people are checking this out right now as part of the #Autonomi beta.

      A storage network where anyone can earn by offering storage, and pay to store data, publish websites etc.

      No Blockchain, gas etc

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  10. Yes, completely agree. I made a modest amount of money from Bitcoin in the early days, sold it all, and have never looked back. It was easier to sell back then!

    The Net badly needs a micropayment system. The best use I've seen of crypto yet is perhaps the next-generation podcast apps that let you make contributions to the channel you're enjoying while walking the dog. I do a lot of this (the listening bit), but have never felt the slightest urge to pay that way because I just don't want to get back into the crypto thing...

  11. @blog

    Entitled much?

    A cryptocurrency (it's a shitcoin, but my point is still valid) is giving you free tokens for nothing just "because you are a GitHub contributor".

    They obviously would prefer if you DON'T swap it for something else, so OF COURSE you wont have a tutorial telling you exactly what to do...

    "Then I tried to withdraw the crypto into something useful. You know, money that I can use to buy goods and services. This, it turned out, was impossible."

    It wasn't. I did it.

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    1. @blog

      I wasn't interested in the token, but I still got 80€ (of a more useful cryptocurrency) out of it.

      "Here's the thing - I don't want to do any research"

      This says more about you than anything else. You get gifted something that has value and can't spend 30 minutes doing basic research. If you don't want to research, then just don't get the tokens.

      This show serious entitlement. You want the free stuff AND a tutorial telling you how to get money with this free stuff.

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      1. @blog
        Moreover, using Wise or PayPal as an example of "easy way to change or sent money" shows that you're literally missing the most important thing: cryptocurrency isn't "money". Also, sending a cryptocurrency to someone else is literally easier (and a lot more private) than sending any money.

        Then there's your conclusion: It's seriously the most pedantic thing I ever read.

        And to be clear: I'm not a "cryptobro" (since I know that will be your attack), I don't care about shitcoins

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        1. @blog Something more:

          "It felt sloppy and unprofessional"

          It's a feature. That's the point.

          You had their token, if you wanted to send their token to someone else using their token it would be simpler than sending FIAT
          The fact that it was hard to swap it for another coin (or money) IS A FEATURE. That's the point.

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