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Crypto innovators and the Letterman show have a lot more in common than you think

Early versions of any new technology will  attract criticism; but it’s often this criticism that helps shape the technology’s success. 

Posted July 11, 2023


In 1995, when Bill Gates tried to explain why the Internet was awesome on the Letterman show, he was laughed at. The first version of the internet didn’t solve any real-world problems; with naysayers determined to pick-apart its early attempts at “innovation”. The ability to “broadcast” a baseball game was sniggered at as a “…copy of radio”; while the ability to listen to the game at any given time was dismissed as “…what tapes are for…”.

Yet, the readers of this article will be doing so via a smartphone or networking tool connected to a version of that same internet that even the 1995 version of Bill Gates could never have predicted. 

The truth is, humanity is insanely good at innovation and our “version one” of any technological invention is usually simply a foundation upon which future iterations and advancements are built. 

In many ways, today’s crypto innovators are often subject to the same type of scepticism. But while it’s true that they might not have every answer, they do understand some fundamental truths around technological progress…

First generation technology will always have limitations… 

It’s important to remember that ‘version one’ of any technology is just the beginning… 

The first commercially available mobile phones weighed around 1kg and allowed for just 30 minutes of talk time. Yet today, smartphones such as the iPhone are sleek, lightweight devices that fit in our pockets. Not only do they provide hours of uninterrupted talk time, but they also serve as multifunctional devices capable of browsing the internet, capturing high-quality photos and videos and facilitating seamless access to a vast array of innovative services and applications. 

Old and new mobile phones stacked on top of each other.
The evolution of the mobile phone. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Similarly, while crypto has gained significant popularity, the industry faces very real limitations that hinder wide(r)spread adoption. Many of these limitations, however, are not insurmountable. 

Scalability (or, the ability to handle a high volume of transactions without resulting in slower processing times and higher fees), for example, is being worked on currently by developers around the world. There is also work being done on the complexity of handling private keys and wallets through more user-friendly interfaces and intuitive applications that simplify the process of storing, sending and receiving cryptocurrencies.

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The issue of regulatory compliance and security concerns is also being addressed through the establishment of comprehensive frameworks and guidelines by governments and financial institutions globally to promote transparency, protect consumers and prevent illicit activities.

Progress involves navigating through (not avoiding) challenges..

Early versions of any new technology will  attract criticism; but it’s often this criticism that helps shape the technology’s success. 

Objections to early versions of the internet, for example, included that it was primarily useful for academic and research purposes and wouldn’t generate substantial revenue or become a viable business platform. Others said it would widen the digital divide. Fast forward several decades, and the internet has enabled the rise of countless industries, including online shopping. It’s also democratised access to information and learning for anyone with internet access. 

A man replacing a capacitor of an ancient computer.
One of the earliest computers ever built. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the same vein, there are a lot of objections to crypto which include complaints around energy usage, criminal activity, centralisation and accessibility. While all of these points can be debated and even refuted (or are at least known and being improved on) – that would be completely missing the point. 

To look at the first version of a new technology and denigrate it for its current state problems only works if you do not believe in progress.  Progress, by definition, involves navigating through (not avoiding) challenges. 

‘Overnight success’ usually isn’t instant…

The widespread adoption of technology takes time, requiring a period of refinement and maturation before reaching a stage where it becomes indispensable. The adoption of the internet, for instance, has been a gradual process spanning several decades in which the introduction of user-friendly interfaces, advancements in technology and increased accessibility gained momentum. 

Today, crypto is primarily embraced by early adopters, enthusiasts and niche industries – but as the technology evolves, scalability and usability is improving and the demand for and acceptance of crypto is growing. 

Crypto and the digitisation of finance is still in its early stages – with an untold amount of innovations still to come. By encouraging innovation, addressing challenges and promoting uptake, we can unlock the transformative power of cryptocurrencies and pave the way for a more inclusive and decentralised financial future. As proven by the internet, innovation takes time – but in the end, the naysayers are quite often proven wrong… 

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Disclaimer: Information is current as at the date of publication. This is general information only and is not intended to be advice. Crypto is volatile, carries risk and the value can go up and down. Past performance is not an indicator of future returns. Please do your own research.

Last updated July 11, 2023

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