MIAMI – There was money in the air. Buzzwords floated around, like NFT, BTD, blockchain, token. There was a furious energy.
And there was heat – a humid, sticky heat in South Florida; the kind for which all the Californians and New Yorkers who moved to Miami during the winter pandemic were warned. The kind generated by thousands upon thousands of people who gather to worship at the altar of cryptocurrencies.
This was the atmosphere at Bitcoin 2021, an occasional gathering of lovers of digital currencies held by a magazine named after the crypto-currency. Last year’s event was postponed. But on Friday and Saturday, at least 12,000 people descended on Miami to make up for lost time, and they flocked to the largest Bitcoin conference in the world and the first major business conference since the pandemic.
The exuberance of being personally inside, inside, in a crowd for the first time in more than a year was electric. Everyone hugged, no one masked. The money is put between digital wallets. The conference swag included neon packs, festival bracelets and a Lamborghini car. The jargon – stable currency, peer, private key – flowed. So does the drink.
For a few days, the city was a raging fireball of finances, technology and joyful anarchy, of unfathomable wealth and desperate pursuit. Bitcoin 2021 announced the downturn of the pandemic with comfortable and everyday elements of a business conference: the plastic sunglasses, brightly colored lock boxes, lanyards and panels. Some participants carried things comfortably. Others looked ready for a music festival. One wore a furry rave bikini.
It was another sign that the often absurd world of digital currencies was gaining mainstream acceptance, or at least mainstream curiosity. Since the end of last year, Bitcoin has taken a wild ride and set price records. Even a dramatic drop from a high of $ 64,000 in April to $ 36,000 has not dampened moods now. They are BTD – buy the dip. Wall Street Bankers, Institutional Investors and Senator Cynthia Lummis, a Wyoming Republican, everyone came to Miami.
Was everyone there to succeed, to revolutionize the global financial system or to just get rich?
Several participants told me that the event presented catharsis, a sign that the pandemic is really ending. The queue Friday morning to enter the venue, a warehouse and outdoor area called Mana Wynwood, stretched more than a mile. It was the largest crowd I have seen in a year.
Others were simply there to party. The bar opened immediately and had just as many people as the coffee station.
‘You will be a millionaire’
There was a reason we were in Miami and not in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles. The city has completely delivered crypto.
Bitcoin ATMs have sprinkled the Wynwood area. A crypto-currency exchange called FTX recently bought the naming rights to the Miami Heat’s arena. The mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, announced this year that the city will accept tax payments in cryptocurrency, allow its employees to collect salaries, and be able to investigate some on its balance sheet. (The logistics of these announcements were: is still being studied.)
Shortly after 09:00 on Friday, when the crowd stormed into the air-conditioned warehouse, a conference organizer, Mr. Suarez presented as ‘probably the most irresponsible politician in all of America, the mayor of the mecca of freedom’.
Mr Suarez set a challenging tone. “I’m here to tell all the haters and all the doubters that this is not a moment, this is a movement,” he said. The crowd burst into whistles and cheers.
Moishe Mana, the real estate magnate who owns the venue, walked around with a small following through the crowded hockey and crypto art. After working for years to bring companies, people and innovation to the city, he was blowing into Miami’s rise.
The appeal from New York and San Francisco is declining, Mr. Mana said. “Every city has its own golden era,” he added. “Nothing stays forever.”
Mr. Mana himself was not a great crypto-guy, but he acknowledged its power and compared the devotion of his followers to a religion. “The more your religion fights, the holier it becomes and the stronger the movement becomes,” he said.
On stage, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, entrepreneurs and billionaires of cryptocurrencies, preached to the choir. Cameron Winklevoss wore a T-shirt with a photo of the Federal Reserve building with the caption “Rage Against the Machine”, a reference to how cryptocurrency is not controlled by a central government or bank.
‘If you own Bitcoin today, you’ll be a millionaire in the future. For sure. Congratulations, “he said.
Later, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and the payment company Square, offered his own approval. “If I were not on Square or Twitter, I would have been working on Bitcoin,” he said.
On Saturday, the conference played a video of Nayib Bukele, the president of El Salvador, announcing a bill to make Bitcoin legal tender in the country. The audience jumps to a roaring standing ovation.
“The horses never die”
A day earlier and a few blocks away, in a warehouse collaboration space called LAB Miami, about 50 people gathered to talk about the digital art and collectibles known as NFTs, or non-functional signs, that became popular this year has.
About half of the group were Miami residents like Stephanie Davis, who left her job at Google in Silicon Valley and moved in with her husband, Eric Kami, last year. Mr. Kami, who also worked at Google, owns a sock company called Tribe Socks.
In Silicon Valley, Google would make the socks work, it would lead to people asking if they were right, Ms. Davis said. But in Miami, she said, ‘Everyone says,’ Congratulations! ‘”
Addressing the room, Drew Austin, an entrepreneur and investor, described his success on NBA Top Shot, a website for buying and selling digital basketball grips. Another panel member, Alex Taub, said: “He basically spent $ 30,000 to $ 50,000 and it’s worth more than $ 2 million.”
Mr Austin attributed the NBA Top Shot to making cryptocurrency accessible to mainstream users. “I’ve been preaching crypto to my friends since 2013 and the first time any of them are doing anything with crypto is the NBA Top Shot,” he said.
The conversation relates to the recent dip in the NFT market. The weekly value of NFT sales fell 90 percent from its euphoric peak in early May, according to a analysis by Protos, a crypto-focused media company.
“Ninety percent of the NFTs will be worthless,” he said. Taub warned.
The conversation shifted to Zed Run, a website for buying, racing and breeding digital horses. Ali Spagnola, a popular YouTuber who started selling her paintings as NFTs, asks Roman Tirone, head of business partnerships at Zed Run, how long the digital horses live.
“The horses never die,” he said.
Satoshi is black
In the historic Lyric Theater along the road, a crowd drinks wine during a “Wine, Women and Crypto” event. Najah Roberts, a cryptocurrency, and Hill Harper, the actor who created an app The Black Wall Street, explained that investing in cryptocurrency was an important step towards financial freedom and wealth for the black community.
“They can’t colonize Bitcoin,” he said. Hill, who was wearing a T-shirt, referred to Bitcoin pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, who said, “Satoshi is black.”
Only 14 percent of U.S. adults bought cryptocurrency, according to a recording by The Ascent, a site for financial services. Of those who have not yet done so, 20 percent said they planned to plan this year.
One participant, Shownda Pagan, a nonprofit manager, said she bought Bitcoin and another cryptocurrency, Dogecoin, more than a year ago after her cousin and son encouraged her to do so. She also bought stock in AMC, the beleagured movie theater chain, which soared to the heights and became a ‘meme share’, dropping traders on social media. She said she was blown away by the rapid rise of her businesses.
“Now I love these things,” she said.
Under string lights
As the sky turns pink and then black, Bitcoin 2021 shatters into cocktail hours, rooftop meals, boat parties and clubs.
I saw colleagues who had been working with Slack and Zoom for a year meet each other in person for the first time. Under string lights eating buffet sushi, a young man rumbles on about something called the DeFi strike. EDM stamp saggies.
Some have been gossiping about the previous night’s Whale ‘party, throwing in for participants who bought a special $ 19,795 conference ticket, and speculating about who would win a boxing match between former Floyd Mayweather Jr. boxer and current crypto-hawker, and Logan Paul, the YouTuber. (Mr. Mayweather spoke at Bitcoin 2021.) Elon Musk, who can swap cryptocurrencies with a single tweet, has been praised and ridiculed.
After a year of isolation, it felt like Twitter had come to life. But we were all there together, and the view was beautiful.