How crypto got a global status

By Ian Silvera

Bitcoin isn’t yet a teenager. It turned 12 in January, having been created in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, with The Times headline “Chancellor on Brink of Second Bailout for Banks” time stamped inside the first (genesis) block in 2009. It didn’t really gain much traction beyond Californian-based boffins until 2010 when version 3.0 of the technology was publicised on Slashdot, a social news platform “for nerds”.

Thereafter, notoriety – first, through an association with Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks and then through dark web marketplace Silk Road – pushed the cryptocurrency into mainstream attention. More trouble came in 2014 when crypto exchange Mt.Gox declared bankruptcy.

Around the same period Bitcoin ATMs started to pop-up in North America, while the likes of Microsoft and Dell started to accept the currency. More academic and general interest came between 2015 and 2016 until the start of 2017 when the price of Bitcoin exploded up a new all-time high of $19,783, initial coin offerings (the crypto industry’s version of unregulated IPOs) took off and the number of active crypto wallets hit around 5.8m, according to the University of Cambridge.

A crash followed, with the Bitcoin price dropping to $3,300 by the end of 2018, but awareness of the project, which is still technically in beta stage, was well and truly out there.

The use and mining of the cryptocurrency had also quietly spread across certain areas of the world, most notably China, Iran, Russia and Kazakhstan, the energy rich country that has become a new hotspot for mining, especially after China’s crackdown. But the catalyst to reach a true global status came with the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the virus continued to spread, the Bitcoin price hit $10,000 in July 2020 and eventually went on a wild run to around $65,000 in April 2021. Again, a mass amount of attention, media and chatter followed. Now 46m Americans own or have some exposure to cryptocurrency, in the UK 2.3m adults have access to it in one shape or another and El Salvador this year became the first country to make Bitcoin a legal currency.

In Africa, a separate blockchain platform Cardano is hoping to build a national ID system for the Ethiopian government, while crypto is booming in mobile-friendly Nigeria despite a crackdown from the country’s government.  People in Vietnam, India, Pakistan, the Ukraine and Kenya are also reportedly embracing cryptocurrency, with some users adopting the technology to circumvent rules around moving money out of the country.

Through notoriety, greed and innovation, cryptocurrency can now finally be described as a global phenomenon.