To my own horror, which is only just beginning to manifest, and to the more immediate dismay of my friends and family, my hobby of pandemic gardening is being supplanted with pandemic crypto-trading.
Pandemic gardening has given me a way to be a more relatable person with a certain large subset of suburban people who, at the very least, grow tomatoes each summer in their well-tended yards. When I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do for small talk, asking about tomatoes will yield a positive response eighty-nine percent of the time. From tomatoes, the discussion can branch out into a productive array of benign exchanges about rabbits, squirrels, caprese salads, insects, and other plants and their pests. Roses and aphids. Blueberries and birds. Peach trees and Japanese beetles. Gardening, most of us agree, is a wholesome activity with a high-approval rating. It is a good normal.
Pandemic trading on the other hand, is not something I would dare bring up with the balanced folks who grow tomatoes. How would I even broach it? “Omg, it’s so nice today isn’t it? I wish I wasn’t so tired from staying up all night watching Ether crash. Did you see that? When do you think it will hit rock bottom?”
What is crypto?, the first question that would need to be answered in order for the conversation to continue, is just too involved and heavy for the unintiated. Who has time to stand there muffled by a sweaty mask to try to explain the socio-economic, philosophic, environmental, and political ramifications of DeFi and blockchain technology to a polite but secretly irritated neighbor who is dying to escape the verbage?
People who don’t know anything about cryptocurrency are people who don’t care to know anything about it. A tomato is real and they can eat it. Crypto doesn’t matter in their lives although I am convinced it very much will, five, ten years from now. The fact that someone like me, a not-so-tech-savvy mom-gardener, knows something about it, means that the train has already left the station.
Paul Krugman disagrees. And certainly, the bubble bursting over the last few days is causing noobs to reassess the idea of a digital economy. Is this just a pile of baloney on top of pile of ether on top of a pile of baloney? Is it just a pandemic hobby that I, and other new traders, will abandon when we can go to the movies, dance with our friends, watch our masks float downriver as we kiss strangers on the bank?
Like being in my garden, being on a crypto-exchange site has been a respite from a noisy and decidedly unhealthy world made worse by a bewildering society that continually chooses politicians with policies that increase the chance of its self-destruction. Observing the countless blunders from local to national governments doing little to stem the spread of Covid-19 is very, very frustrating. I must accept that people do not love one another in the real world or put on blinders. I must bear the guilt of being inoculated and okay here while there is no reprieve or hope for a family in India, or shut off the valve of empathy. I need, we all need, escapes, and if I can’t get sushi and see some uncovered smiles, and the sun has set on the garden, I open my laptop and type out my long, paranoid password to log in for cheap thrills.
Blockchain technology is a mathematical, contained habitat in contrast to the irl mess out there that defies all logic. Its structure and coding is fairly inaccessible — I have no head or background for it. But I can visit its products in a coin exchange site where the rules and quantitative values are just mysterious enough to pique curiosity without being so complex as to cause an embarrasing feeling of being, well, stupid.
Your personhood while trading is bifurcated into two simple and equally important halves. Nothing as chaotic as the binary conditions that pull each of us up and down through their respective spectrums in our daily lives: happy/sad, well/ill, satisfied/restless, energetic/tired, isolated/over-stimulated, busy/lazy, hungry/full, amorous/peevish, generous/cranky, thoughtful/selfish, creative/bored, hopeful/disappointed, active/nested, at bat/in the stands, eager/avoidant, calm/nervous, regretful/proud, fearful/commanding, etc. These are poles that are not actually measurable.
In the semantics of opposites, everything is vague. What is the opposite of angry? Not angry? Even if you can define a general emotion, how hazy does it become if you zoom in closer to it? Was the pride you felt when you pulled a perfectly browned turkey out of the oven on Thanksgiving a direct inverse of the shame you felt when you hit a turkey in the road on your way home from work? No specificity can be provided by an emotional memory, with its unreliable play-back that is in flux and constantly revised. And yet you are required to move in an orderly manner through your own physical and emotional conditions as you expertly navigate interacting with others who are traveling their own ups and downs.
When you trade, you simply become a buyer or a seller, nothing vague about it. Anyone you meet in this world has only two possible qualities, that of being a buyer or seller. It is a kind of zen to have only two choices.
I have been trapped, not unpleasantly, for hours by the red and green candles that flicker in intervals across the screen. Is it not a beautiful system? In each slip of time, gigabytes of data are conveyed by a definitive vertical line. Simpler to decipher than a pregnancy test. A green line is an increase in price. A red line is a decrease in price. The length of the candle measures the range of prices. If you care to ascribe emotional psychology to the system (increasingly less relevant in the shorter time intervals with quant trading and automated bots, but still an indispensable analysis of larger trends), you can even do that, in a way that is immediately quantifiable. Optimism, greed, wariness, confusion itself is displayed in the patterns. When the candles shrink and linger on one price, traders are indecisive. When long green lines shoot up with no red intervals, greed is overpowering rational consideration.
If this system had been invented recently, I imagine the author would have won a Nobel Prize in economy. But it was created in the 18th century by a Japanese trader, Munehisa Homma, who charted the relationship of the price of rice to the mindset of market participants. It is so ingenious, this chart, that world over, three-hundred years later, we have come up with no more expedient feed of market changes.
The first question I am asked, by anyone I have confessed my recent addiction to, is how much money I have gained or lost. I am not sure it is about money for me. Because I am content to experiment with small trades and feel almost as accomplished profitting by ten dollars as I do profitting by a thousand. I am more propelled by the knowledge that if I look closely, ever more closely, the patterns become more defined. It’s a bit OCD for sure.
On a site such as FTX (the U.S. version, FTX.US, is more limited) there is repository of trade parameters in the “Quant Zone” wherein you can write your own trading algorithm or copy someone else’s. “Oh my god, this is so cool”, was my reaction to finding it. It’s democratic. It’s inclusive. It’s a New World Order.
My second reaction was “Oh my god, I’m a nerd.” To want to dwell in this world, when all my life I’ve been what most analytical people would dismiss as “a creative”, is somewhat concerning. Is this a mid-life crisis? Did I just never know that I loved math? Did my young son inherit his Aspergian counting quirks from some repressed gene? I looked at a page of discrete-log-polynomial commitments to see if the answers to my existential questions would jump off the page and into the black recesses of my left brain. No. I was never, and can never be, a person who understands math.
I don’t know any quant traders personally, but my suspicion is that many of them are what we normies would categorize as being “wired differently”. Vitalik Buterin, the billionaire founder who released Ethereum at the age of 21 after concieving of it at age 19, embodies the stereotype. Talking a mile-a-minute with stiff flighty hands, and processing speech without eye contact, this is a person who, like my son, will never be able to make small talk about tomatoes. He is a rationalist, a kind of present-day figure of The Enlightenment.
Ethereum itself, you can rest-be-assured, was no get-rich-quick scheme. For someone with problem-solving prowess, the raison d’etre is not money but chasing the answers. Mr. Buterin genuinely believes in the possibility of a working crypto-economy and he wanted to build a technology other products could be built upon. Unfortunately, Ethereum’s platform is used by get-rich-quick schemers to make junk coins that, like Shiba Inu, hand ludicrous profits to a few gamblers. When something accrues 18,000% in about three hours, the desperation and greed attracted is as intense as the numbers.
Crypto’s real currency is hope, cresting when it was needed during the dregs of quarantine, and crashing when it became possible to go outside again.