The Big Interview

Ocuis’ Ethan Lou: “There is, sadly, no true decentralisation”

Coin Rivet catches up with Ethan Lou, a former journalist who these days runs a mining company in Canada and who recently wrote an article for the Guardian, arguing that Bitcoin will become a target for the environmental movement

Coin Rivet: Tell us about yourself and how you came to write the article for the Guardian.

EL: I invested in Bitcoin in 2013. Four years later, I founded Ocuis, my mining company in Calgary in western Canada. That year, I also quit my job as a journalist with Reuters.

Ocuis has a popular cryptocurrency newsletter that I write. I also still write regularly in media on issues ranging from geopolitics to energy policy. My work has appeared in Canadian magazines including The Walrus and Maclean’s and newspapers such as the Toronto Star and the Washington Post.

The Guardian piece wasn’t the only one I wrote about cryptocurrency recently. I wrote in the South China Morning Post about how blockchain can save Chinese bike-sharing firms. I wrote in the Toronto Star about how Facebook’s foray into cryptocurrency is not necessarily a good thing. I also wrote in the Times Colonist about how Bitcoin mining could be a good thing for British Columbia.

“The wider world sees decentralisation and sees anarchy and lawlessness. Without regulation, it will be hard to have widespread adoption”

Coin Rivet: The article has, somewhat unsurprisingly, been slammed by some in the crypto space (e.g. The Block’s Mike Dudas calling it ‘absolute garbage’). How do you respond to the critics?

EL: There was a lot of positive reaction to the piece, actually. But there is no question that the cryptocurrency community often feels misrepresented in mainstream media. Some of that reaction was a little surprising.

I myself have a mining facility. I never made a value judgment on Bitcoin mining. All I wrote was that Bitcoin will be perceived as bad for the environment by environmentalists; the green movement will see Bitcoin just like how it sees oil, even though many other activities have big environmental footprints. That is because the two share characteristics that make them great targets for environmentalists. I observed the situation without picking a side.

I understand why some in the cryptocurrency community may view mainstream media with suspicion. These are two groups that don’t interact often with eachother. But it won’t always be that way. Some publications already have dedicated cryptocurrency or blockchain reporters, and I do think, in the future, every major outlet will have at least one.

Cryptocurrency will be covered in the same way media covers politics or sports, like any other everyday subject. The concept of the crypto space will also change. As the subject becomes increasingly absorbed into the wider world, the borders that delineate the space will blur.

Coin Rivet: That brings me on to the crypto Twitter community. A force for good or bad? 

EL: I’ll go back to the answer to the previous question. With increasing adoption and awareness, the crypto Twitter community will change. Today, there is a stark distinction between someone with insight into or involved with the community and someone completely uninitiated, just like how 20 years ago, there is a great difference between someone who uses the internet and someone who doesn’t.

But now almost everyone is on the internet. Even if you’re not, you’ve heard of the internet and know what it is. That will likely happen for cryptocurrency one day. It will be a subject part of the general knowledge, instead of a niche topic that people have to go out of the way to learn. More people will be using cryptocurrency, but there will be fewer that define themselves through their use of it.

Coin Rivet: 2018 was a rollercoaster ride for cryptocurrencies. Aside from environmental issues, what were your key takeaways from the past 12 months?

EL: We all remember John McAfee, the founder of the eponymous anti-virus software, who said he would eat his penis on video if Bitcoin does not reach $1 million by the end of 2020. Then there was the famous Wall Street bull Thomas Lee, who predicted a Bitcoin price of $25,000 by the end of 2018. 2017 was the year of stupidly high predictions from all sorts of otherwise smart people. 2018 was the year they all ate their shoes.

I’ve been through this before. I was in this space during the great crash of 2014, when prices fell roughly the same, percentage-wise. I had prepared myself for a similar crash. In 2017, I’ve come to know a lot of people who jumped into this space because they heard about Bitcoin because the price was rising. In 2018, many of those same people were gone. I hold a meetup group in Calgary in western Canada. At the price peak, it was packed with people. Now, only a handful of people show up.

Coin Rivet: Do you believe that widespread crypto adoption is coming or will it remain a niche thing for the foreseeable future?

EL: That will definitely happen. My entire Guardian piece was based on the premise that adoption and awareness will increase. Otherwise, crypto as it stands now is way too small of a target for environmentalists. The question, of course, is when. If we look at what happened to the internet, there was no one single moment during which the world went from not caring about the internet to embracing it. It slowly crept into our everyday lives, without our realising it. Before we knew it, everything we did was on the internet.

There are studies that show teens these days are less tech savvy than those of previous generations, because they are born into this environment of technology, and everything works to the extent that they don’t have to peek under the hood. Few can explain the email protocol or RAM or CPU. Maybe they don’t even know those terms.

But they are indispensable to our lives nonetheless. We’ll probably never see the day when everyone will be able to explain how blockchain or cryptocurrency works, but we will see that day when that wouldn’t matter.

“Now almost everyone is on the internet. Even if you’re not, you’ve heard of the internet and know what it is. That will likely happen for cryptocurrency one day”

Coin Rivet: What’s your take on regulation in this space?

EL: It definitely goes against the philosophy of cryptocurrency. Born out of the financial crisis of the time, Bitcoin was made to circumvent banks. It was made to be untameable by governments. I can see why it would be unwelcome. But it is inevitable. There is, sadly, no true decentralisation. We can have it on small scales for specific applications and organisations. But society as a whole is hard to function in that mould.

You can have nice, decentralised money in the form of Bitcoin. But then there are thefts and robberies and scams, and we need a centralised authority to resolve that. We had the DAO, but look how developers resolved the matter after the infamous hack. The wider world sees decentralisation and sees anarchy and lawlessness. Without regulation, it will be hard to have widespread adoption.

Coin Rivet: What are your crypto predictions for 2019?

EL: Well, I’m certainly not going to say anything about price. People who do that end up on the wrong side of history. Increasing regulation is definitely coming, and I think there will be at least one big announcement of mainstream interest, whether from the finance or technology side.

Facebook is already developing a cryptocurrency for Whatsapp, which it owns. That was reported by Bloomberg in December. The New York Times reported in January that Facebook is merging Whatsapp with its own messaging platform and that of Instagram. That is huge. I don’t think 2019 will top 2017 in terms of mainstream interest and hype. But it’s going to be an exciting year nonetheless, for sure.

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