If I asked you whether or not I should buy ‘bitcoin’ at any point in the last three or four years, chances are you would have said “no”, and you would have been wrong. Because the answer, in hindsight, should have emphatically been “yes”.
If I’d bought bitcoin three years ago, when everyone kept snorting and saying stuff like “Pah! It’s too late! You should have bought it years ago, it’s only going to go down now”, I’d have made enough money to buy ShortList Media and pay someone else to write articles about bitcoins, instead of trawling the internet day and night for info about whether you should buy bitcoins, and then writing articles about it, like I currently am now.
The big question is: if you bought cryptocurrency right now, like, right this second, if you closed this webpage and just plowed all your cash into cold hard cryptocurrency, will you be living it up three years down the line, knocking back crypto cocktails in a big ol’ palace made of solid gold speculation? Or will people laud their told-you-so face over you as you desperately try and eat your ‘crypto wallet’ for sustenance?
Last month, throwing caution to the wind, I sent messages to a bunch of people I know who work in and around or near to ‘finance’ asking how many bitcoins I should buy, and they replied with things like “are you serious?” or “you literally can’t afford one bitcoin” or “haha, are you about in the new year?” or “no it’s a scam” or “do you even know what bitcoin is?”. It seems people (read: cowards) are very reluctant to encourage me in my cynical and reckless pursuit of obscene wealth.
Now, this could be due to the fact that I will readily admit to knowing absolutely nothing about bitcoin, or ‘cryptocurrency’. Or money in general. It took me until last year to even think to ask my bank how my money was doing, only to be informed that I still had a child’s savings account that should have changed when I was 16 and the interest was so negligible that I’d accrued about £3 in a decade. But what if the greatest con of our time has been convincing people that they need to ‘know about’ something in order to do it?
You see, the secret isn’t understanding cryptocurrency - that’s just the lie they use to discourage you. Nobody understands cryptocurrency. They might say they do, but every time I’ve heard anyone actually try and elucidate ‘what cryptocurrency is’, it’s mostly been elaborate nonsense burbled by someone who has partially understood an ‘Explain Bitcoin Like I’m Five’ video. The gist seems to basically be: it doesn’t exist, except on the internet. I’ve wasted a lot of hours trying to work out what a ‘blockchain’ is, but it could be anything from “a digital ledger which records transactions and is owned by everyone with a modem” to “a comprehensive network of nefarious online weirdos who need to be blocked and/or locked up”. Frankly, I’m not interested.
What I am interested in, is taking the paltry amount of money I currently have and converting it into a terrific amount of money by doing as little as clicking a button online which reads ‘Buy Crypto’.
I understand one thing: bitcoin is worth a lot more than it used to be. Unlike one physical pound sterling, one cryptocoin might actually be worth £10,000 or £5,000,000, depending on which impenetrable and wildly fluctuating chart you consult, and at what time. All of these values seem unimaginably high to me, yet I can’t dispute any of it, and neither consistently can anyone else. “It’s fake!” They naysay, but they can’t deny that the fake money is still somehow worth something. A lot of something, too. Thus, the message is clear, I must invest.
You might read this with a mixture of horror and disdain, and think “Christ. Do not, whatever you do, invest in cryptocurrency”, but I posit you this: why do I need to understand it in order to buy it? I don’t want to understand. I don’t want to know or care about whether it’s an ‘obvious scam pyramid scheme’. I don’t want to have a comprehensive knowledge of investment patterns and an intimate feel for tediously dry data. The truth is, if I’d just blindly bought a bunch of bitcoins back when they first popped up and we all first thought about it, I’d be minted now. Likewise at any point in the intervening years. I have been a coward. A coward who just wanted someone - anyone - to look me dead in the eyes, clasp my hand, press it to my heart and confidently whisper “do it”.
Instead, everyone just bleats that “the bubble has to burst some time”. But again, I scream: “what if it doesn’t?”
I kept saying this, over and over, to anyone who would listen, and often to people who had stopped listening, until a fortnight ago, when my colleague Dave said he’d invested in some cryptocurrency called ‘Ripple’ (or ‘XRP’) the week before and doubled his money already. His mate had told him to, and his mate had gone to one of the Oxbridge universities so “knew his stuff”, and this was good enough for me. Being normally tragically incapable of spending over a tenner online without feeling nauseating buyer’s remorse, I timidly acquired £150 worth of almost-certainly-a-scam digital currency (apparently worth 0.89 cents at the time) then suppressed a scream by biting down really hard on my fist.
“The trick is not to check for a couple of days,” Dave advised. “Uh huh,” I said, not listening and furiously refreshing the page. For the first few hours, it steadily devalued in increments of 0.0001 cents. I was crestfallen. I’d as good as thrown £150 into a flaming bin that I had hoped would convert my real money into rare and inexplicably expensive ashes.
Then it went up.
By the end of the day I’d made £1.06. I don’t think I’ve ever left even a pub quiz machine with that margin of profit. I was delighted. I told everyone I was a big shot cryptohead now and they all looked at me like I’d exchanged a sickly cow for some dubiously magic beans. They called me a fool and told me that there was no chance I would be able to “buy every pint in Britain by 2019”.
It’s important to note that the site I’m using to ‘invest’ is a semi-social media app where people post feverishly excited real-time comments like “this is it guys! XRP is going to hit $100 by tomorrow, $1,000,000 next week… next stop….. the moon!” It’s also important to note that all these people are as absolutely clueless as to what they’re doing as I am, but damn, it’s hard not to get caught up with the collective exhilaration of a particularly well-timed “here we go!!!” accompanied by a GIF of Leonardo DiCaprio-as-Gatsby doing a frantic dance every time the price goes up.
When the value of an individual XRP broke $1, I became unbearable. We all did. This was it… the moon! Everything I’d always thought about stocks and shares and money and finance being for bores and wankers was wrong. Turns out they were all actually: really extremely good.
Then, as I was on my way home the very next day, all of the cryptocurrencies crashed. I found this out because everyone I’d boasted of making £30 to had simultaneously texted me articles about it, all adding the comment “lol”. And sure enough, I checked the app to see what my fellow amateur investors were saying and it was mostly “fuuuuck” and “SELL” and “omg guys i cant believe i fell for this obvious scam”. In a cold sweat, I opened my ‘portfolio’ to discover I’d lost £90.
I was in way over my head and needed to cut my losses and sell before it was all gone. The distant memory of an episode of Hustle I’d watched years ago slowly materialised in the forefront of my mind, as though Mufasa before Simba. “Buy low,” it said, nodding sagely, “… and sell high.” In a moment of utter recklessness, I chucked more money I had into the bin and bought a bit more.
Since that moment of financial stupidity, the price has increased by about 250%. At the time of writing, I’ve inexplicably made more than £1,000. It keeps going up, and I hate it.
When I stood to make about a tenner, it was a novelty, a lark, a fun bit of make-pretend with no jeopardy. Not like now. I’ve spent two weeks thinking “this is high, should I sell?” and “£1,000 is really a lot of money, I should get out now” and “but what if it goes higher?” and “but what if this is actually still low, and I should buy more” and “why didn’t I take out an emergency loan and plow it all in when I invested? Then I’d be set for life. I’m such a fool. Stupid, stupid, stupid…” I think all of this at once every minute of every waking hour. I can’t sleep.
I’m on the tube and I have to check the price. I’m working at my desk and I have to check the price. I’m giving a presentation and I have to pause and check the price. I’m eating food and I have to throw it on the floor and check the price. I’m at a urinal and I have to take my eyes from my penis and check the price. I’m with my friends, but they’re not with me, because I’m with the price. I used to think of other things, but now I think only of the price.
I see the price whether my eyes are open or closed and those eyes look different now - bloodshot, inflamed, red. Glowing red. People have began recoiling at them, but when I catch my reflection - in a bus window, or a puddle, or a mirror - I like it. A coy smirk dances across my face. I cackle. People cower behind me. This is who I am now. An investor. A money man. This is my life. There’s no turning back now.
I fantasise daily and dangerously about how different my life might be if, for once, I’ve actually turned up on time to catch the gravy train. Maybe I’ll earn enough to have a holiday. Or put down a mortgage. Or become a billionaire. Maybe I’ll make so much that I’ll be able to enact a scheme of massive wealth redistribution and alleviate global suffering. Who am I to sacrifice the chance to eradicate global suffering by selfishly selling when I’m only one thousand(!) pounds up? The fact is: I don’t think I can ever sell now.
What’s the lesson here? Well, on the one hand, you could take note of my success sans rose-tinted spectacles and see it’s a complete and utter mug’s game. You can thank the sweet lord you aren’t one of the schmucks who will get suckered into blowing their retirement money investing in made-up numbers stored on some teenager’s graphics card. You can keep willing the cryptocurrencies to crash and placate that gnawing part of you that wishes you’d ignored your common sense and just bought some. You can stay in the gutter with the rest of your fellow cowards, hoping the rainfall pushes you slightly higher and that our crypto rocket explodes before reaching the stars.
Or you could join me on this fool’s adventure. You could take a leap of ignorance and buy a small amount and rejoice as it goes up, and up. But know that you’ll be condemned to climb this beanstalk forever. You will never reach a point that seems appropriately high enough to get off. Even if it starts hurtling back to Earth. “Buy low, sell high!” you’ll repeat to yourself, chucking more and more cash at it. “It’ll go up again! It has before!” This is how it gets you. You won’t have an investment, you’ll have a dream. And you won’t be able to let go of it. It will corrupt you and it will consume you. Finishing this article has been agonising because I can’t stop checking the price. I’ve made about 12p during the writing of this conclusion alone. Soon I won’t be able to commute into work anymore as I’ll be orbiting the moon and floating in the most peculiar way.
Then someone will expose all of cryptocurrency as a fake prank invented by bored vloggers and I’ll hastily delete this article in humiliation. This is me looking you square in the eye and whispering “don’t do it”. You don’t understand.
Edit: since the first few drafts of this article, the value of XRP has alarmingly dropped 2 dollars. It keeps dropping. It won’t stop. I’ve fucked it. I can’t get out now. I’ve lost nearly £500 in profit. It keeps diminishing. I’m watching the counter go down right now, in real-time. I can’t cash out now in case it goes up again, like it did before. Like it might do again. I will be there till the end. Please learn from this.