It was 12:45 a.m. on a Friday out and about in Riga, Latvia. Without going into too much detail, I was having a good time with fellow Bitcoin and Lightning folks.
I was there for the Baltic Honeybadger conference, one organized by plebs for plebs. And you could feel this! Everyone was eager to help and understand what other people in the ecosystem were doing or were there to learn.
We stood outside a bar where all the drinks were paid for with Bitcoin, and people seemed to be enjoying themselves. At that moment, I stood back, looked around, and observed what was happening. Most of us were far away from home, in a foreign town at almost 1 a.m., yet we only talked about Bitcoin and how we will use it to make the world a better place.
That’s where it hit me. Although we tend to fight on X, all while looking like absolute lunatics, in the end, we manage to agree on one thing. It doesn’t matter what your background is. For some weird reason, we tend to blend in once we meet in real life.
Meeting fellow Bitcoiners in real life, making those connections, and using the time to discuss ideas or even set up new businesses are the best things about this community. It’s also the perfect time to clear the air and have better conversations than what we have on social media.
This got me thinking: What if there is more to Bitcoin than the benefits we’re all familiar with? What if there is a secret superpower to it, one we haven’t fully utilized yet: In-Person Connections!
Social Movements Are the Backbone of Technological Progress
One of Bitcoin’s core ethos is that of the cypherpunk movement. It values logic in code above all else. Doing so eliminates human error and corruption, which have always been issues for humankind.
Cypherpunks envision a more decentralized world where everyone has total control over their identity, privacy, and online rights. Bitcoiners know how important all of these points are. However, most people don’t care that Big Tech monetizes their data.
The pioneers of the cypherpunk movement saw this coming a long time ago. Instead of keeping to themselves, they went on the offense and publicly stated their goals and ideas and why government snooping would be an issue in the future.
What might have started small quickly turned into something big, and before they knew it, a group of cypherpunks had to defend the right to encrypt in front of the Supreme Court in the U.S. The U.S. Government was so frightened by encryption that they took on a group of mathematicians and cryptographers. Imagine that!
This small group of enthusiasts built a social movement first to educate and show people why we need mass encryption and how dangerous an authoritarian state is. Out of that, they created the tools and software we now use on a daily basis. Think of PGP, HTTPS, or messengers like SimpleX.
In order for us to accept and use encryption, we had to have a social movement with which we could identify ourselves. It might not be that most people who are privacy conscious these days know of the cypherpunks, but they keep their values alive. The ideas that were planted 40 years ago still hold true today.
The same should be possible for Bitcoin. To achieve this, we as the Bitcoin community need to be more proactive and transform our online communities into more than debates online, but actually into real-world connections. Just like the cypherpunks did back in the day, we need to strengthen the social movement first, either by organizing events or by providing physical copies of essays, books, and thought pieces to read.
If we only stick to the digital realm, which is easier because Bitcoin is digital through and through, we miss out on many great chances to strengthen the social movement. Or even worse, we fall victim to the ever-increasing censorship mechanism we see online.
Breaking Free of the Algorithms and Gatekeepers on Social Media
Most Bitcoin debates occur online, either on X, nostr, or in other chat-based forums. This is part of the day-to-day life for most of us as we seek to engage with all our friends online.
However, this comes with an enormous sacrifice for most of us. We have to play according to the rules of these platforms, which means we get gate-kept, censored, or, in some cases, even blocked.
Our biggest issue is being kept out of the loop or not reachable to people looking in from the outside. Sure, there is always the argument that people can go the extra mile and find other sources or ways to engage.
The sad truth is that only some do. Regular people don’t take the extra steps to read a different source or go to a platform other than the social media site they’re used to. If there is a one-stop solution, they’re most likely to use that.
One step to solve this is to use Bitcoin-friendly places like nostr. Not only because you can experience Lightning through Zaps but also because it’s a protocol where users can decide how they want to engage.
Currently, it might be the best solution to onboard everyday people and show them the differences between open protocols and closed platforms. However, we’re exchanging time for something digital. Getting users on will take a lot of effort from the community and nostr builders.
Luckily, we’ve had a secret superpower for a long time, and I believe we’ve not been using it to the best of our abilities. We need to do better and connect with as many people as possible in real life!
ABC – Always Be Connecting with Fellow Bitcoiners
Thus far, we established that Bitcoin needs more real-life connections to break free from digital censorship and to make it more accessible to people worldwide.
One way of doing so is to use places like nostr, connect with as many people as possible, and move the conversation from a digital dialogue to a physical one. Either by organizing an event, attending a conference to strengthen that bond, or heading out to town and trying to orange pill people.
All of that can be organized on social media or online, but it’s tricky. Some people might not be comfortable sharing where they are or strictly use their profile to help spread the message in a particular matter.
This is where the Bitcoin Social Layer comes in. I am a big fan of the Orange Pill App, a dedicated app to meet Bitcoin’s nearby and engage with them directly. The idea is not to spend your day endlessly scrolling in the app but rather to actually find people nearby, connect, and find a place to meet in real life. It takes the digital realm out of the equation and only uses the app to show you Bitcoiners nearby.
Because you already know that all users on there are Bitcoiners and want to help the ecosystem out, there is no need to make small talk or try to figure out if the person you’re engaging with wants to meet. Most users on OPA are engaging to meet fellow plebs. Personally, I love using OPA at conferences because it facilitates meeting fellow visitors and potentially meeting connections in real life.
I also like such apps to do some orange pilling both for merchants and private people. I can show a small business that there is a large group of potential customers around. All they need to do is to accept Bitcoin or, even better, get on the app and engage.
The same applies to people who have yet to embark on the journey down the rabbit hole. If they can see fellow Bitcoiners nearby, possibly even find plebs who share similar interests, and get on board this way, the whole community benefits by expanding with local Bitcoin hubs.
We need such bridges between the digital and physical worlds right now. The Bitcoin movement is silent; it grows in the background, and I believe it’s time to put it upfront and make it available to as many people as possible.
This is a guest post by Joël Kai Lenz. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.