Last night I watched The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin, a new documentary about one man’s obsession with the digital currency and some characters he meets along the way.
It would make good viewing for anyone who’s heard of Bitcoin but doesn’t understand it. Anyone who does Bitcoin or Altcoin mining knows just how difficult it is to explain the concept behind it to regular folks. This documentary gives a good introduction to the whole Bitcoin concept.
The Central Protagonist
The film is centred on Bitcoin enthusiast, Daniel Mross, whose brother happens to be a filmmaker (hence, the documentary). It documents his introduction to Bitcoin in 2009 and follows his progress through his mining ventures with different equipment. Along the way, there are interviews with various Bitcoin entrepreneurs he encounters, which is quite revealing.
Bitcoin (and its associated Blockchain) is still a very new and innovative technology that is hampered by laws that were drawn up in another, mostly even pre-internet era. The internet and its technologies change much faster than legislation and there’s a growing divide between the two.
The Man Who Invented Bitcoin
Some focus is placed on Satoshi Nakamoto, the “inventor” of Bitcoin. The film looks at how he brought various crytographic elements together to create a new paradigm that would become Bitcoin as we know it today. Always one to shy away from the limelight, he maintained contact at a distance with developers (programmers) and quietly disappeared a couple of years later. There’s no known image of Nakamoto and no one knows who he is. Perhaps he’s a pseudonym, or a creation, of a group of bright people who simply wanted to give something new to the world while remaining anonymous.
My own pet (but mad) theory, is that he is a time traveler from the future who came back and planted the Bitcoin seed because that future world was in so much chaos and meltdown due to banker excesses, fraud, market fixing, out of control quantitative easing, another stock market crash and the domino effect of a collapsing Chinese economy (among other factors). The financial armageddon that beset that future world would make the 2008 crash look like a minor hiccup. Well, that’s my dystopian imagination at play. 🙂
Anyway, the documentary devotes some time to the story that ran in the mainstream media when Satoshi Nakamoto was finally found and identified. Except it wasn’t him, just some poor unfortunate who happened to have the same name. When “journalists” finally did some proper research, they realised that the story just didn’t hold water. The real Satoshi Nakamoto put the final nail in the coffin of this story with a terse “He is not me” style message – the only time he’s been heard from since he originally went dark.
The Bitcoin Entrepreneurs
The entrepreneurs the film looks at and interviews are not the ones to use to bring Bitcoin awareness to the masses. They give the impression that the Bitcoin Wild West is a frontier populated with scam artists and criminals who are using a system that largely lies outside of mainstream regulation to feather their own nests. For those already invested in the Bitcoin world, the interviews give great insight into enterprises we’ve all probably encountered at some point.
Initially, these people are presented as true business entrepreneurs out to bring Bitcoin awareness and ease of use to the greater world. The three individuals the documentary primarily concentrates on are Charlie Shrem (founder of BitInstant), Mark Karpeles (founder of Mt. Gox) and Jared Kenna (TradeHill).
While mention is made of the fact that TradeHill was forced to close down due to operational and regulatory issues, no mention was made of what became of Jared Kenna afterwards.
The same with Mt. Gox. The demise of the exchange was covered briefly but there was no followup on what happened to Mark Karpeles (he’s not in the Bitcoin sphere now but just opened a webhosting company – should be be allowed to run any business?). There was also no mention of the number of Bitcoins that went missing from Mt. Gox nor any of the fallout from its collapse.
Likewise with Charlie Shrem. The documentary did show that he’d been indicted on unlicensed money-transmitting charges and was under house arrest and had to wear a locator on his ankle, but nothing about what happened with his case. In fact, he entered into a plea bargain with the US Government to forfeit $950,000 after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting an unlicensed money-transmitting business (BitInstant). He was facing up to 30 years in jail and could still go to jail for up to 5 years.
Shrem’s plea bargain happened on Sept. 4th, 2014, perhaps too late ot be included in the documentary, but the film would have been better off with his case’s outcime in it. The Mt. Gox debacle happened in February, 2014, so much more detail about the fallout from that could and should have been included in the film.
My overall impression of The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin is that the documentary is certainly worth watching. It provides a good grounding to how Bitcoin works for the uninitiated. However, if the film was designed to bring a positive awareness of Bitcoin to the masses, I think it misses by a mile. It will only cement in the minds of the regular joes that this whole Bitcoin thing is an enterprise run by criminals, shady characters and scammers. This is underlined by an interview with a drug dealer who used the silk road to buy stash to sell to his customers.
While Bitcoin evangelist (and good guy) Roger Ver was mentioned, it was almost in passing. It seems that the ideas he extolls for Bitcoin were bypassed in a stampede to show another unscrupulous or incompetent Bitcoin entrepreneur in action.
There was little information about how Bitcoin can liberate the poor from the high fees charged by the likes of Western Union to transfer money. Some time was devoted to the fact that the Blockchain is essentially an incorruptible ledger of all Bitcoin transactions, but I think that will be lost in coverage given to the less savoury aspects of the Bitcoin environment.
In short, while it’s a documentary worth watching and certainly interesting, it won’t do Bitcoin any favours. It’s likely to put ordinary people off Bitcoin, who will see it as largely criminal based and that will ultimately hurt the adoption of Bitcoin by the general public, which is what we all want.
The Rise And Rise of Bitcoin closes with these words: “Maybe we won’t ever know who created Bitcoin, but the truth is, it doesn’t really matter. Bitcoin belongs to everyone, and the future is ours to build.”
Pity the film shot itself in the foot by largely focusing on the negative aspects of the Bitcoin world rather than the positive.
Filed under: Bitcoin Mining