I finished 2014 with so many great experiences in Argentina that the final outcome of educating and assisting in the Bitcoin adoption there didn't disappoint me.
In the town I was living in after the year -- Villa La Angostura, Neuquen (in the Patagonia) -- I had one business adopter, one new bitcoin holder from Buenos Aires, and lots of experience in dealing with skepticism. But the town I lived in was not typical to the norm of that country. It was much slower to change.
During my year there, I wrote an article entitled "Using Bitcoin in Patagonia" for the LTB network, I did an interview with John Barrett on Bitcoins & Gravy, I translated the Spanish section for BC TIP, and even wrote an app review for the Multi Currency Bitcoin POS Android app. I had a quick voice meeting with Adam B. Levine about starting an LTB network Spanish section, and writers even began contacting me to help produce content for it.
What I didn't expect was that a "tico" (Costa Rican) would contact me and ask whether I wanted to give a Bitcoin talk in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. I was already going to visit Costa Rica on my way up from South America as I headed to Canada. I accepted the invitation.
Before leaving the South, however, I headed to Gualeguaychu in the Northeast of Argentina, the most famous carnival town in the country. I had one last business there that was interested in hearing more about Bitcoin, a lumber business called La Forestal.
Dany Alos, a volunteer at a small group called Giras Bitcoiners, connected with me before I arrived. The group made their way through the town educating people. They volunteer their efforts going to different towns in different provinces and giving talks on the potential power of Bitcoin for the country and the world. If you're looking to sponsor a Bitcoin cause in Argentina that only looks for donations to help cover the transportation costs, I recommend checking them out.
Back to the business I met with, it went well. But I realized finally that, just like the network layers we don't see when communicating on the internet, I was one of the layers in the Bitcoin adoption process. I may not see businesses adopt, and even less see their potential success in using it. But I am part of that process.
After crossing the country once, I did so again heading West, but this time I crossed over the Andes and into Santiago, Chile. There's an insane markup on flight tickets leaving Buenos Aires. Not so from Santiago. I stayed only a few days and even missed a Mycelium trader who wanted to buy bitcoins from me. But I was just hours from my flight departure and had no need for Chilean pesos anymore.
Just before my flight, I emailed my tico contact, Rodrigo, letting him know that all was still a go on the Bitcoin talk. While I was in flight, my contact was busy organizing it. Once I landed and got to the Pacific coast, I went looking for internet.
Rodrigo had already been hard at work organizing the conference and titled it "Bitcoin – Experiences and Applications in Argentina.” The talk would be the first on Bitcoin in Costa Rica, presented in the "Club de Union." The Club de Union is located in the middle of downtown, between some offices and the main Costa Rican banks. The "Club de Investigaciones Tecnologicas" (Technological Investigation Club) would attend and the talk would be broadcast live as well.
Getting to the conference required me to travel from the Pacific Coast, where I reside, to the center of the country, where the capital is located. Edenia Sistemas sponsored my talk and graciously paid for all my travel costs. The company is top notch. It was the first to accept bitcoins in Costa Rica, and also one of the first to do so in Latin America. They were looking for alternative forms of payment when their main credit card transaction handler failed them due to a misunderstanding. Rodrigo studied the new technology and became an early acceptor and adopter. He was going to give the first presentation at the talk and explain how the Bitcoin blockchain works.
I was to show up at 7:30 on Wednesday, January 21. I was picked up the day before and slept in a beautiful B&B so as to begin on time. The Club de Union building is old and not without its own history. Upon entering one of the halls, I found myself by an audience who was waiting to hear what we had to say. Even some central bankers showed up.
Breakfast was served with fresh fruits and staple foods such as rice and beans. This was quite the reception. I was impressed. It was a great way to give my first talk. My first language is English, but I was giving my talk in Spanish, meaning it was challenging all around for me.
Rodrigo went first, explaining the blockchain in detail, and he did a great job in contrasting the technical with the philosophical. I proceeded with an introduction and then gave five points that I learned while presenting bitcoins to the town in Argentina. I contrasted them with the five steps I went through while trying to help people there learn and adopt the new international currency.
Below, I have translated the main points and a few side ones of the talk I gave. However, Spanish speakers can listen to the whole thing on YouTube. The camera was static, so sometimes we disappear out of frame. The audio isn't always clear. The battery ran out during my talk, which you will notice at one point. And all I showed on the screen were scenic pictures of where I lived, which helped visually with my talk. In any case, it's a recorded piece of history. Now you can view if you want. My talk begins at 1:15:30.
As I head to Canada next to continue my efforts to help people better understand and, where necessary, adopt this new technology, I leave Costa Rica with a more "pura vida" (pure life).
- Explaining why Bitcoin works, without explaining how it works, is like a pilot trying to explain why a plane flies, without explaining the laws of aerodynamics.
- The first step in having any chance to change something begins with the permission you give yourself to listen with an open mind, even if you're skeptical about the subject. It is better that you are skeptical because, just like a real scientist, you're testing a theory, like pounding a hammer onto a new metal to see if it'll break. Since the genesis of Bitcoin, programmers, hackers, and people globally, such as the media, are still trying to hammer the protocol to see where the hole is. But after more than five years, it continues solid.
- I invite you to listen with enthusiasm, and with the intention not to stop here today with what you hear, but go and continue learning even more from other resources.
- The exchange site Mt. Gox fell after the last battle, and we don't really know yet what happened. But it did teach me after studying the blockchain that Bitcoin was solid. The protocol did not fail; the company did.
- In Argentina, I discovered that I learned more from the people than the people learned from me. My experience where I lived was not a reflection on what was happening in the whole country, but it helps us to understand how ordinary people react to the idea of Bitcoin.
What I learned While Introducing Bitcoin in Argentina
- The financial problems of the country will not be resolved with a new currency such as Bitcoin until we first change the way we resolve the problems:
- If someone doesn't think they need it, they aren't going to give it a shot.
- It's a matter of perspective, not of the quantity of information. Generally, one's perspective changes when one's needs change.
- It's okay, because when people are ready to make a new change, the currency and the technology will be ready for their use.
- The warranty that this technology offers is written in the protocol, but the guarantees we seek when we use Bitcoin ... do not exist.
- Learning how to use this new technology guarantees that we can use it safer, and with more confidence. But the guarantee of services that we're used to having -- in which a third party, such as an administrator who can reset a password, or a bank that can return a stolen sum -- does not exist in the Bitcoin protocol.
- Learning how Bitcoin offers written guarantees within the protocol helps us know how to use it. For example, we can use multisig.
- We're moving from an architecture that trusts others to solve our dilemmas, to taking responsibility and educating ourselves about how to do.
- An interesting consequence of Bitcoin in Argentina is that it is helping to release the huge potential of the minds and the rich resources there.
- There are many Argentine programmers, and even Buenos Aires has a building with several companies dedicated to the growing Bitcoin services.
- While there's a slow adoption in that country, there is a concentration of passion for Bitcoin that is accumulating there.
- Another positive consequence is that in general, for the adopters of this new money, they understand that it's not only a way to hedge against the Argentine peso, but it's also as a new way to transact with the world.
- The opportunity to accept Bitcoin for international business is great, because the risk for the seller is zero, and this bypasses the currency controls (like with the dollar).
- Learning from others helps with understanding. But by teaching, you're understanding more yourself.
- I finished (and passed) my final exam this week on the Introduction to Digital Currencies MOOC course that the University of Nicosia offers for free. It is the first course for the Master of Science in Digital Currencies. It's a very good course. I recommend it to those who really want to know more and learn in a more official manner and with an objective perspective.
- The value of Bitcoin does not come only in regards to what you can exchange it for, but also in why you're using it.
- Half of the world does not yet have access to a bank account or a method to convey their value in this world. You don't have to replace your method of accepting payments. Just give an alternative as well. It's a way to build the bridge half way to connect with the rest of the world.
I'll close my talk with some thoughts.
All those supporting Bitcoin are really supporting something bigger, consciously or not. Bitcoin has more to do with global consensus, rather than only the use of one of its applications (such as currency).
Every time we use it, we're trying to use a new form of communication For those of us who use Bitcoin, we're voting with each transaction on whether this is a better way. We're participating in the evolution of a revolution that will bear fruit not only to the Bitcoin network, but more importantly, to the people who use it.
Keep learning from various channels and thinking critically about it as you read both sides of opinions on this new technology. Remember that the way you educate yourself, not how much, will help you even more than what the Bitcoin blockchain technology can bring you. That's what we need in order to do be a better human, a better family, a better community, and a better country for a better world.
Be like a child. Do not lose the "want" to learn and don't be afraid to try new things. Thank you for your attention. Do you have any questions (readers of this article as well)?