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Self-proclaimed cypherpunk Jameson Lopp is a firm believer in crypto self custody, the potential for cryptography to protect people’s lives, and how the leaderless-ness of crypto Twitter — despite the trolling — may be a good thing for the ecosystem’s evolution.
While Lopp began his career by working as a more traditional computer engineer, he is now the CTO of Casa, a crypto security company that aims to protect its users from any issues surrounding crypto holdings (even natural disasters, according to their LinkedIn, which brings up the question of whether corona could, or should, count).
As Lopp has already been living off the grid for several years — going as far as purchasing a decoy house to avoid giving his address to the DMV — the quarantine imposed due to the corona pandemic has even made his life easier, since contactless deliveries became more common.
Another plus, as he told me, is that “it’s also no longer considered suspicious to walk around wearing a mask.”
When did you first get started in crypto (and what did you do before)?
I spent the first decade of my career working in a variety of engineering positions for an email marketing company, eventually landing on large-scale data analysis right when distributed cloud computing was starting to become a big deal.
I first became interested in Bitcoin in 2012. Two years later I started my first Bitcoin project (Statoshi) to better understand what was going on inside of a node. A year after that I went full time and became the first infrastructure engineer at BitGo.
What is your vision for the future of the crypto industry, and how may that have changed since the corona pandemic began?
My extremely long-term vision is to be able to use cryptography to protect many other aspects of our lives. Perhaps, some day, even to protect our lives as well… though that will require our consciousness to be digitized. We made a step in the right direction as Bitcoiners started organizing meetups in virtual reality at the onset of the pandemic!
Since the beginning of the year, what benefits of cryptocurrency have become more visible? Drawbacks?
Protection from money printing has generally been off people’s radar, but now it’s front and center. Bitcoin is finally starting to get more of the respect it deserves as a completely new asset class.
On the downside, a lot of new entrants who are interested in using Bitcoin as a hedge don’t seem to have grasped the importance of self custody in order to fully realize the benefits. In many cases I suspect that the effort required to learn how to self custody turns many people off from it.
Has the pandemic made living off the grid easier or more difficult?
Easier, if anything. It’s now even more common for various services to offer contactless delivery options where they drop things off at your front door. It’s also no longer considered suspicious to walk around wearing a mask.
How has the $6 trillion US bailout changed or solidified your views on the traditional financial system?
Solidified; it’s been over a decade since the last egregious overreach by the financial elites but now they’re doing it again. By creating billions of dollars and handing it out to their cronies with no transparency, it becomes clear that the system is rigged against the average person.
What advice would you give to someone just getting into cryptocurrencies, i.e. buying and trading (what steps are absolutely necessary, in your opinion, in terms of privacy?)
It’s important to invest in education before investing your money, that’s why I built and maintain https://bitcoin.page. I don’t recommend trading unless you’re already an experienced trader, otherwise you’ll just end up giving your money to the professionals.
The most important thing is to learn the risks so that you can avoid shooting yourself in the foot and losing all your money. This is a high risk, high reward type of environment.
You’ve written about the significance of meme culture for Bitcoin. Do you have a favorite meme, or one you think really encapsulates the sector?
I like “vires in numeris / strength in numbers” because it’s applicable from a variety of perspectives:
* The cryptography securing private keys is based upon large numbers
* The proof-of-work securing the blockchain against being rewritten is based upon brute forcing the solution to a huge problem space
* The decentralized nature of the network makes it robust against physical attack — there are too many “doors to kick down” for such an attack to be feasible.
How has a failure in crypto set you up for better decision-making?
I’ve had several close calls where I’ve nearly lost money due to a custodian failure and one where I did lose money due to a custodian failure. These days I’m much more conservative and only keep money with third parties that I’m fully willing to lose.
Crypto Twitter can be a dark place: do you think that the close online crypto community on Twitter is an overall positive influence for spreading knowledge (i.e. flooding J.K. Rowling with Bitcoin explanations)?
It’s anarchy! In general I do believe that the social media aspects of Bitcoin are important for its adoption and while there is plenty of trolling and arguing, it’s a natural part of the evolution of this leaderless system.
What’s the top of your reading list for starting in crypto?
I suggest that everyone learn about the history and prehistory of Bitcoin; after that you may choose to read about economics/liberty/technical aspects of the system. My recommended reading list is linked here.
This interview has been edited and condensed.