If Consensus 2018 could be defined in one word, then it would be weltschmerz: physical reality just couldn't satisfy the expectations of the mind. However, it's the demands and expectations which require some adjustment.
I'll make the big statement from the very beginning: in 2018, the Consensus conference has gained a new meaning by removing the concept of progress through conflict of ideas and replacing it with a meeting of likemindedness. But in many ways, it was only natural for it to happen and there is nothing wrong with people with similar core beliefs who meet in order to exchange experiences and interact with investors or enthusiasts.
2017 was the year when the entire crypto space was faced with an inevitable turning point, as tension could be felt in the air everywhere, and the Bitcoin scaling debate was making headlines. The fact that the New York Agreement was signed by most of the participants already pointed out to a fresh start which allowed the community to engage in less in-fighting and pick a side in the "big blocks v small blocks debate." And despite SegWit 2X's apparent failure, Consensus has gained notoriety for being the place where all the big decisions are made, as well as the big conference where whales and developers find common ground.
Nevertheless, we're living in times of development and competition.
The scaling debate had come to an end, and we have yet to see the result of this technological battle which somehow drifted towards a passionate ideological ground. Are big blocks and Moore's law enough of a solution to fix a blockchain's congestion issues as it goes mainstream, or is it a better idea to build second-layer solutions on top of the existing blockchain for the sake of retaining the same degree of decentralization?
Well, this year's Consensus has been all about the latter solution, as Lightning-friendly community members have attended the conference primarily for networking and meeting purposes. Eliminating the heated debates and bringing together individuals and organizations that are more likely to agree does take away part of the charm, but can actually be more productive in development phases.
The roadmaps are clear, the deadlines are yet to be met and, as Bob Dylan put it, "time will tell just who has failed and who's been left behind."
As we've already established, it's always good to have meetings between people who share similar beliefs and stand for the same core values. Maybe the most compelling display of consensus (no pun intended) is the "Magical Crypto Friends" quartet - an interesting assembly of crypto celebrities who, despite working on different projects and coming from disparate backgrounds, find middle ground in their advocacy for small blocks and Lightning scaling for Bitcoin. They admire each other's individual work, provide insights that are specific to varied fields from the industry, and prove that animals of different breeds can live peacefully under a minimalistic ideological framework.
At this year's Consensus, Magical Crypto Friends livestreamed the seventh episode to a live audience - and the event looked like a celebration of agreements made for the sake of maintaining Bitcoin decentralized via small blocks. If you'd like to read a thorough coverage on their latest episode, you can read it here.
I was blown away watching @starkness's conversation with @jack.— Zack Voell (@zackvoell) May 17, 2018
No joke, I was grinning just listening to Dorsey describe his views on Bitcoin and explain Square's corporate ethos. Here are some of the best quotes from that interview. (1/7)
(Video: https://t.co/z92DXfLsbN) pic.twitter.com/Z7Wn0K4Pg5
Then there were the serious panel discussions, and lots of them deserve credit for shining light on important issues and spreading positivity in the medium. But the one which took the spotlight was the dialogue between the Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey and Lightning Lab's Elizabeth Stark.
It's always impressive and encouraging to hear the founder of one of the biggest internet companies (and the social media platform which is used by heads of states to communicate) refer to Bitcoin as the native currency of the digital network, and present nothing but positive insights on Satoshi's invention. Then there's Ms. Stark, one of the brightest minds in the crypto world, a living proof that the new decentralized world promotes competence over gender bias, and an activist for women's inclusion who makes dedicated efforts instead of complaining (the same week, Jimmy Song and her organized 7 dedicated blockchain programming seminars for women).
It was also great to see all the major figures in the space talk about the latest trends and the issues which occupy their brains these days.
However, in a world where most information gets shared quickly on Twitter very few secrets were divulged and we didn't benefit from any breaking annoucements. If you had great expectations in regards to ground-breaking announcements, then this year's Consensus would have been disappointing for you.
I'll begin by calling out all the questionable ICOs which rely on fragile business models, don't really solve any pressing issues, and seem to be around just to capitalize on the trend. According to many participants (unfortunately, I couldn't afford to be one of them), a lot more physical space has been allocated to these mostly tokenized start-ups this year, and this is a reminder that even the biggest crypto conference in the world is supposed to make a profit (and the acquired privilege to participate doesn't imply an endorsement from any of the important panel speakers). The Magical Crypto Friends have been pretty vocal on the issue, and the beginning of their live-streamed episode was dedicated to negative remarks about some of the ICOs surrounding New York Hilton Midtown.
This bothers me on so many levels https://t.co/QAfBDIGmBX— CryptoJesus (@robbiebent1) May 19, 2018
Then there was the exuberant display of the "Lambo" culture - something which seems to attract greedy speculators and promote a lavish lifestyle which many influential figures resent. Three flashy Lamborghinis were parket outside the building as a way of signaling the presence of Bitcoin millionaires, and the strategic positioning was fined by the authorities with well-deserved tickets. The fact that Snoop Dogg had a concert for the Ripple community is somehow an extension of this crypto bro and hedonistic attitude, and it makes us all wonder whether or not a new decentralized financial order would really be better if it was governed by the same old greed.
Now let's talk about the entire "Bankers against Bitcoin" charade.
Who were these people and who paid them to make this kind of display? We'll probably never know, yet there are two possible answers: a group of bankers looked into a crystal ball and saw that a decade from now they will be having the same kind of battle that taxi drivers have against Uber, or somebody with a strange sense of humor decided to legitimize cryptocurrencies as the phenomenon that bankers already fear so much. Nonetheless, it was a weird moment.
I've saved the best for last: Vitalik Buterin boycotting the event was definitely a bad sign, and this decision proved to the world that there is a divide between communities. As it transitions to Casper Proof of Stake, Ethereum no longer wants to be associated with its old (and still current) days of consuming electric energy to mint new coins. As of lately, Vitalik has been really vocal with his criticism of and disillusionment with Proof of Work, and this absence was nothing but an extension of the entire narrative of moving on. The current state is not really beneficial for the crypto space and its credibility among no-coiners, but maybe we're only scratching the surface of a grander narrative.
The Unrealistic Expectations
Before Consensus, analysts and experts speculated a lot about the price of cryptocurrencies. Perhaps that the most famous one was made by the Wall Street researcher Tom Lee, who claimed that a 70% price surge could happen during the conference. As we've all seen, nothing major has happened to the price, and it's short-sighted to see patterns and correlations in the annual graphs.
The major bull runs have happened in the previous years just because big announcements were made to generate enthusiasm, and this year we didn't have any big news.
While cryptocurrencies are stepping towards mainstream adoption, we should expect the major figures to focus on accessibility (so that anyone can understand what's going on) and security/stability (as nobody would invest in a fragile project). Volatility is likewise going to decrease in the coming years, and we should all prepare for the glorious moments when bankers and financial suits will no longer have arguments against Bitcoin being a good store of value.
Influential people getting together at an event and discussing the latest issues isn't meant to be an instrument which brings hype and pumps prices, but a day when the underlying values of the space are reiterated and everyone gets to remember how and why they started in crypto. And now that hard forks have caused a clear ideological and technological division between the scaling approaches, we are going to have fewer conflicts and more healthy market competition. In the end, we shouldn't expect a gathering of people from the world a decentralization to have the same effects we would find in banking and centralized finances.
Cover Image Credit: Magical Crypto Friends/YouTube