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The Bitcoin Field Guide exudes pre-crash optimism
By Thomas M. Sipos
Computer manuals have a reputation for being poorly written and incomplete. The answer to your question about a program is often missing. The author knows the answer; it just didn't occur to him that it needed to be explained. What is explained is often done so confusingly. The Dummies books, I have found, make it worse. Rather than clarify, they merely pad an already bad manual with cartoons, jokes, and happy talk -- making it that much harder to plow through the verbiage in search of useful nuggets.
Darcy Weir's newly released documentary, The Bitcoin Field Guide, is a poorly written Dummies manual. It promises to explain Bitcoin in a fun, comedic way, but I learned almost nothing from its 119 minutes. True, I did some research prior to seeing this documentary, but I'm still a newbie. I should have learned more.
Rather than step-by-step, comprehensive explanations of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, we are hit with a succession of sound bites, snippets from TV news shows and articles, talking heads, and pretty graphics. We learn a few factoids, but gain no understanding.
We learn that hard wallets are safer than soft wallets for storing cryptocurrency, because soft wallets are online and can be hacked. Well, that's useful.
We're told that Bitcoin is a deflationary asset, because it's limited to 21 million coins, but (even better) there's really only 18,483,118 coins, because people often die before revealing their passwords to anyone. Thus, their Bitcoin accounts can never be accessed by anyone. And so, because the supply of Bitcoin is limited, and even shrinking, while demand increases, its value always go up.
If you die without a will, the state, not you, decides who gets your assets. With the exception of your Bitcoin, which simply disappears into the ether.
Alas, The Bitcoin Field Guide suffers the misfortune of having been completed shortly before the Bitcoin crash of 2022. Yes, the supply of Bitcoin is limited. But the supply of cryptocurrencies is unlimited. New coins are being issued all the time, and Bitcoin competes with all of them. Bitcoin is not deflationary.
Part of Bitcoin's appeal is that it's thought to be "crypto" (i.e., secret). But Ben Armstrong, Founder of BitBoy Crypto, tells us that Bitcoin is "100% traceable." (Don't ask me what BitBoy Crypto does; the documentary doesn't' say.)
But what about Monero? I heard that it's truly untraceable. So untraceable that many crypto exchanges are forbidden by the laws of their jurisdictions to trade it. What's up with Monero?
A good portion of The Bitcoin Field Guide discusses other forms of blockchain currencies. Alt coins, stable coins, utility coins, defi coins, meme coins, Ethereum, Shiba, gaming tokens, NFTs -- the head spins. Many name drops and sound bites, but like the proverbial crappy computer manual, nothing is clearly explained. We're told that online gaming creates -- or earns? -- tokens, which are actually a financial system, or currency, or something. And Ethereum is really a "platform" for ... other stuff, I guess.
And no mention of Monero.
We're told that blockchain coins have to be "mined." This involves solving complex math problems, or something. It's not explained in much detail. But we are invited into the Montreal apartment of Brian McCloskey, cryptocurrency miner. He shows us all his computer gear, humming away 24/7 in every room. His mining generates so much heat, McCloskey's built air vents extending from his cabinets full of computers to the window.
We learn that mining "creates coins." It's how miners are paid. But if the number of Bitcoins is fixed at 21 million, then how can new coins be created? We're told these new coins come from a "pool of coins." What does that mean? Like a poorly-written computer manual, it didn't occur to Weir that the audience doesn't know, yet might want to.
Other thoughts as McCloskey walked us through his apartment: Does his landlord know he's running dozens of rows of computers? Who's paying for the electricity? Is it a fire hazard? Is McCloskey in violation of a city safety ordinance or his lease? Does he require or have a license to operate such a business in his apartment?
Rather than a sober documentary, The Bitcoin Field Guide is a breathless infomercial. There are the brief disclaimers about cryptocurrencies being volatile and high risk, but the bulk of the talking heads -- the ones who provide more than sound bites -- all exude an evangelical, libertarian fervor. Armstrong says that blockchain and cryptocurrencies aren't merely an investment, they will transform the world. They will protect privacy, remove social media censorship, and disempower banks.
The documentary suggests that blockchain finance will empower the Third World poor who have no access to centralized banking. Such as the sad-faced African mother in a hut, holding a baby, that we are shown. But if she's dirt poor, I don't see how she'll be able to buy or even access crypto, or how it will help her buy milk or rice from nearby vendors. Such details are left unexplained.
The most fervent of the evangelical talking heads is Joseph Shew, Founder of the Crypto Consulting Institute in Australia. This "consultant" looks and acts like a parody of every motivational speaker and infomercial huckster you ever saw. The constantly moving hands. Tight polo shirt so you can see that he works out. The breathless, hyper-enthusiastic delivery. Twenty years ago he'd have been hawking juicers or the ten-minutes-a day to a washboard ab miracle exerciser.
I said The Bitcoin Field Guide promises to explain cryptocurrencies in a fun and comedic way. Well, it tries. Several skits featuring professional "comedians" are interspersed. There's even a "comedic" rap song that mocks traditional finance. None of it is funny or informative.
I learned a few factoids, but came away with no understanding. This documentary plays mostly like a libertarian sales pitch for the new utopian crypto future. Too bad for these Bitcoin evangelists that their sale pitch was released right after the recent crypto crash.
Thomas M. Sipos writes satirical novels and film criticism. His website is CommunistVampires.com.