A new country, a bitcoin experiment, and streaming on Twitch

22nd September, Berlin, 18:05, I came across Vice News around 2018 and admired their hardcore and realistic view on difficult issues. They had reporters in war zones around the world and one of them actually got kidnapped in Ukraine. Recently they started long reports on cryptocurrencies. In today’s report I learned that there is a group of people who are trying to claim a disputed island between Croatia and Serbia. They called it a new country and named it Liberland. They have a flag and a constitution. No other country recognises Liberland, yet.

The citizens have interesting ideas; using only cryptocurrencies for every transaction in their new country, making central institutions and parliaments obsolete by voting everything on the blockchain, and the most controversial idea is to have voting power equal to the cryptocurrency the individual holds. You may think that in reality whoever has more money has more influence on the society anyway, and may like to become a citizen of Liberland, but once you destroy a fundamental equality and bake it into the constitution, who can stop the powerful to accumulate more power and abuse the system? I wish it was that easy to solve social problems with technology. But I understand the frustration of the young and their willingness to start from scratch instead of trying to fix the old and complicated systems we have.

The other news was El Salvador’s acceptance of bitcoin as legal tender. It’s more shocking than Liberland because it’s one thing to dream about an ideal society, another to actually force 4 million people to use bitcoin for everything. Well, I guess you can only do it with a dictator on top. A massive social experiment. Some argue, “70 percent of households have no bank account and nearly 90 percent do not use mobile banking. A digital payment platform could be a way to make the economy more inclusive and accessible”. So far, the results aren’t looking good. Last week Fitch had downgraded El Salvador’s credit note. 

It’s tough for a small country to be at the mercy of the fluctuations of bitcoin. What if more countries legally accept bitcoin? Would it make bitcoin more stable? Would widespread acceptance make early adopter countries like El Salvador wealthy?

I wonder if mining bitcoin is still profitable. There used to be so much talk of it in 2017. Urban legends like mining farms on top of remote mountains where the cold weather  would naturally cool the servers. After a quick search the answer seems to be yes, it’s profitable, but there are many variables; the block rate, the hashrate, the price of hardware, the price of bitcoin, etc. One speculation; “In June 2022, the bitcoin hash rate fell to 5.4% when the price of Bitcoin fell below $25,000. The price of graphics processors, which provide computing power, fell by an average of 15% in May, indicating miners are offloading their chips on the secondary market.

There seems to be another concept in the horizon of the blockchain world. Instead of miners competing to solve the puzzle of the next bitcoin, the nodes in the network would cooperate. They call it Proof-Of-Cooperation. I like the idea of optimising the energy usage, as Ethereum recently switched to Proof-Of-Stake in last week’s big merge, but the trustworthiness of the cooperative nodes is yet to be seen.

So many exciting new technologies are emerging. It’s truly fascinating to watch. I know it’s been around for a long time now, but for me Twitch is one of those thrilling technologies. In 2019, I used to watch Critical Role on Twitch, just because I couldn’t wait until Monday night when I could watch their new episode on Friday night or on the weekend. But I was never interested in other streamers or engaged in chat. It was a strict video access situation for me.

Two weeks ago, I was thinking of a young character for my story, I decided to visit Twitch and find a streamer who is similar to my fictional character and observe a real person for rich inspiration. In the end, I found myself talking to young people on one of the streams and realised that there were so many stories unfolding on this platform. We were a bunch of people from different parts of the world, at different ages, gathered around to just chat, just like people used to do at a village square when none of these technologies were around, sharing our experiences and connecting.

Then came a young guy with a heartache. Probably after seeing us gathered and talking cheerfully. He asked for help, he asked advice for his recent break up with the love of his life. He said, maybe in his second sentence, that he was contemplating suicide. I thought, “Wow! What a heavy responsibility to lay on a total stranger’s shoulders.”. My mind started racing to find approaches to shake his state of downward spiral. Luckily, with our age difference giving weight to my words  and with the help of everyone in the chat, we managed to ease his pain and distract him with a better match out there somewhere. But the drama and the possibility of finding great stories to tell stayed with me.

Here I am continuing my exploration of Twitch by streaming myself, trying the perspective of the creator rather than the contributor or consumer. I must say, from this vantage point, things look even more interesting. The mindset of the performer, the race to please and attract followers, and the cold indicators of the dashboard stats that reduce your audiences to averages and achievements.

And I’m trying to imagine how young people must be feeling today, in the midst of all these powerful technologies. How do they even navigate this maelstrom of activity and noise? For example, as a shy kid, I would never be able to open up myself and my life on a channel like this, so publicly, where anyone can come and throw curveballs at you at any moment. You have to have a thick skin. Before you can read and ban a stranger’s message on your chat, your confidence can be shattered by evil intent. Ridicule is a most potent weapon.

Kickstarting a new channel is a tricky business too. Let’s say you’re a fifteen year old person, willing to go live and talk to strangers or play a game or showcase your skills or whatever you decide to present to the world. It’s been made extremely easy, almost frictionless to set up a streaming station with a professional looking layout and some music. But, when you press that button to go live for the first time, you’ll face a powerful silence and a harrowing emptiness. Except for your friends nobody will know you are on the stage to welcome and entertain them with all your heart and soul.

Then, out of an infinitely diverse selection of contents, if the viewers choose to stop by your stream and leave without saying a word, you’ll wonder what just happened by devouring, obsessing over every single statistic at your disposal, but you’ll never have the full understanding of your narrative. At the same time, you’ll see a guy or a girl the same age as you, earning hundreds of dollars in front of your eyes. The worst part is the difference between massive success and complete failure would look so ambiguous that it would be maddening.

How can my young friends handle this confusion and frustration without proper guidance?

Stream recording: https://youtu.be/rqq8JPbcPnM

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