A Normie's Guide to Becoming a Crypto Person
New York magazine|November 22 - December 5, 2021
How to (cautiously and skeptically) fall down the rabbit hole.
By Sara Harrison. Illustration by Michael Haddad

You’ve managed to willfully ignore crypto for the past some-odd years, but all of a sudden it may feel as if the blockchain is closing in on you. Your 401(k) provider is rolling out a bitcoin option, your friend just made an NFT in Microsoft Paint and sold it for $14,000, and even your mayorelect is supporting a citywide cryptocurrency. (And did Dad just say “NGMI” in the family group chat?) To an outsider, crypto may mostly seem like a bunch of Patagonia-vestclad bros out to make a quick buck at the expense of the environment. This is not entirely wrong, but the landscape today is unrecognizable from its inception in 2009 and even from before 2020, the year NFTs first exploded. While some corners of the crypto world are still toxic and absurd, it’s also a fascinating and (strangely) optimistic place— where a global army of people with competing philosophies, living mostly on Twitter and Discord, all in some way believe crypto will fundamentally remake the world (and, in the process, everything we believe about value, money, and the internet). This is a guide to actually understanding that universe, whether you simply want to sound literate at a dinner party, know the difference between a bitcoin maxi and an NFT scenester, angle for a promotion by showing off more tech fluency than your boss, or leave your PR job to become member-in-chief at a new coin exchange.

1. At the very least, pick up some basic cryptospeak.

On December 18, 2013, a guy with the username GameKyuubi logged on to the then-four-year-old Bitcointalk forum and went on a whiskey-fueled rant. The value of bitcoin had just dipped 50 percent, but GameKyuubi, a self-admitted bad trader, was determined not to sell. He titled the post “I AM HODLING.” HODL, a fortuitous typo, would soon become a foundational part of cryptospeak; today it refers to not selling one’s crypto assets, even when the price becomes volatile. Since then, the lingo has grown even more unintelligible. Here are some basics to help you follow what people are talking about.


To buy into a new coin or token—particularly when you don’t know much about it but feel driven by FOMO: “I need to ape into this NFT before the price shoots through the roof!”


The coins and tokens in your portfolio. If you hold on to your coins until they become worthless, you’re unfortunately a bagholder.


At its most basic level, a DAO is just a decentralized way to organize a group of people— like a digital co-op with a shared bank account. There’s no leader or CEO who makes decisions; instead, you might bring a proposal to the DAO, and everyone who holds a token gets to vote. Some DAOs operate like start-ups, others invest in founders or NFTs, and others exist just to hang out. In November, ten friends created a DAO to buy a first edition copy of the U.S. Constitution at a Sotheby’s auction. Within a week, they gathered 17,000 members and $45 million in funding, only to be outbid by the CEO of the hedge fund Citadel.


“Fear, uncertainty, doubt,” a catchall phrase for any kind of negativity, criticism, or bad news about a cryptocurrency (even if it happens to be true). When powerful enough, FUD can cause panic sales of tokens: “Jamie Dimon is calling bitcoin a bubble that’s about to pop—he’s spreading FUD again.”


If a coin is mooning, that means its price is soaring.


A skeptic who has stayed out of the crypto market, either from sheer bewilderment or the suspicion that it’s a giant pyramid scheme. A tweet from @Gemsays: “A nocoiner normie friend found my Twitter & said ‘you look like a crazy person trying to start an internet antiestablishment cult.’ ”


The process by which the earliest cryptocurrencies (like bitcoin) are mined. It’s extremely energy intensive, requiring powerful computers that race to solve elaborate sudokulike puzzles to compete for tokens.


An alternative process that doesn’t require miners and uses much less energy. More and more new currencies are adopting proof-ofstake technology. Ethereum, the secondbiggest cryptocurrency, has committed to migrating its entire network to proof of stake by 2022.


A scam in which developers raise a lot of money for a crypto project, then disappear with all of it. One of the most notorious rug pulls took place in 2018, when a start-up called Prodeum, after receiving a modest amount of funding, disappeared with all of the users’ money and left only the word penis on its home page.


“We’re all gonna make it” is a rallying cry, an expression of camaraderie and optimism. Often used after something good has happened: “I bought this NFT early, and now it’s mooning. WAGMI.” Its opposite is NGMI, or “Not gonna make it,” which describes a person or entity that made a bad decision and is doomed to failure: “God, I missed out on this NFT drop! NGMI” or “Facebook’s Meta rebrand is so cringe. NGMI.”


The internet as we know it today, which is dominated by a few large tech companies, like Facebook, Amazon, and Google, that provide services in exchange for personal data (and, in turn, control what happens to our data—how it’s stored, used, tracked, and monetized).


Right now, it’s more of a utopian vision than a reality. Web3, a favorite buzzword of many crypto enthusiasts, is a decentralized version of the internet that runs on a blockchain. In this version, you would be a stakeholder in any entity you contribute to online (so if Facebook had started as a Web3 project, you might have been earning equity— tokens—for all those hours you’ve spent on it since 2006). Think of it as a rebrand of crypto.


A person or institution that holds such an enormous amount of a certain cryptocurrency that whenever they buy or sell, they’re able to move the market. Many whales choose to remain mysterious. Nobody knows, for example, the identity of the world’s largest dogecoin holder, who has collected 39.6 billion doge since 2019 (about 30 percent of the total supply).


You can’t found a serious blockchain project or cryptocurrency without publishing a white paper, which serves as both a technical introduction as well as a manifesto for what problem you want to solve. Often long and dense.

2. Give yourself a crash course.

Lots of people will point you toward the white paper that Satoshi Nakamoto published in 2008 introducing bitcoin, or the one Vitalik Buterin wrote in 2013 laying out his vision for the ethereum blockchain. But as we’ve mentioned, the foundational texts of crypto are probably not the best place to start. “The barrier to understanding is too high,” says Chris Cantino, a partner at Color Capital. “They should be read after someone’s already been fully cryptopilled.” Instead, try these resources, ordered from least to most time-consuming.

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