While bitcoin lost 85% of its value over 2018, the real tragedy of the bear market has been the human cost. In this series of guest posts, Inferno publishes interviews with former members of the blockchain scene who left the crypto sector for the real world. Names have been changed to protect privacy.
I meet Karen at a diner on her way home from work. I’m already sat at one of the booths, watching the entrance, and it’s clear exactly who she is when she walks in. Late 20s, smartly but informally dressed. Pretty, but with a distance in her eyes that is obvious straight away. The sign says to wait until she is seated but she spots me and walks over – displaying evidence of independent thought not shared by 90% of the population. Crypto will do that to you, if you let it.
Over dessert, Karen tells me her story. She got into crypto three years ago during a temporary spell of unemployment. It turned into a two-and-a-half year career break as she carved out a niche for herself and worked hard to establish a reputation as a community moderator for a number of large ICOs. ‘I was one of the beneficiaries of that exponential rise in 2017,’ she explains. The ICOs were successful, she was successful – she picked up over $50,000 on each of them, she tells me, selling most of her tokens near the top.
‘I guess I learned to read people, to read markets, during the course of my work,’ she says. ‘Prices were rising in 2016, when I got started. Then they started to accelerate. And then the acceleration accelerated. The communities I was helping manage, they were full of people making incredible price predictions. Understanding some basic psychology, the nature of herd mentality, put me ahead of most of the competition – even if I didn’t have a financial background like I assume a lot of those traders did. They were all making money, all euphoric, but there was this little voice in the back of my head…’
Karen made a fortune out of selling her tokens, and then watched as the whole thing came crashing down. ‘It didn’t give me any pleasure to know I’d been right,’ she continues. ‘I’d have been happy to be proved wrong. After all, they were the experts. I was just there to help manage the community.’ But that task, it turned out, was about to get a lot harder.
As bitcoin topped out at $20k and the ICO scene imploded under the weight of the bear market and new regulation, her communities turned nasty. ‘These were smart, articulate people but they never saw it coming,’ she explains, shaking her head. ‘It hit them like the back of a bus.’
Not long after, Karen simply switched off her computer and left crypto for good. She hadn’t used a real identity online, there was nothing that could be used to track her. ‘I cashed out the remainder of my crypto, deleted whatever email and social accounts I could and shredded my hard drive. I was out of there like a ghost. That life never existed.’
Today, Karen works as a childcare specialist, returning to her previous career. After life as a community manager in crypto, she finds interacting with highly intelligent, rational adults too painful. ‘It’s easier to work with children. Sure, they have tantrums. Sure, they have totally unreasonable expectations. Sure, they don’t speak very good English and some of them have poor personal hygiene. Sure they can be really nasty to you sometimes, when things aren’t going their way. But you know what? For some reason, I don’t find that hard any more.’
The author is an experienced financial journalist whose opinions and interviews have been featured in The Guardian, Forbes and the Financial Times. He writes here under the pseudonym Marcus Aurelius.
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