What is bitcoin???

It’s a question everyone asks but no one seems to have a good answer for.

John Oliver host of Last Week Tonight, said it best:

Usually, the nerds will give you the technical definition:

Bitcoin is an open monetary transmission protocol…blah blah blah

They’ll tell you what it does and how it works…but I heard these jargon filled definitions repeated for years and they never helped me, in fact they all made bitcoin seem boring and underwhelming.

Because of all of these boring definitions, Bitcoin is very misunderstood, I can tell you it’s not what you think it is.

It’s a totally new invention, revolutionary invention, and yet it’s shrouded in complex terminologies and elitist jargon.

Wow what a difficult task you have. At a very basic level you have to try to understand what is bitcoin. I can answer that question in for words. Bitcoin is digital money. But that doesn’t really capture it. It’s more like the Internet of money. But really it’s a consensus decentralized network based on Blockchain technology and proof of work algorithm that allows a digital token to act as a reward system for a game theoretical competition between decentralize minors to validate…and oh my it immediately goes off a cliff….

Andreas Antonopoulos

The only things we have to explain what bitcoin is, are analogies of already existing technologies. But like the old saying goes, some analogies are helpful, but all are wrong.

Some of my personal favorite bitcoin analogies are:

  • Bitcoin is digital gold
  • Bitcoin is gold that you can send from one phone to another…or from one BRAIN to another.
  • Bitcoin is digital Super-Gold! Flying around the world at the speed of light, in an unstoppable PayPal
  • Bitcoin is not just a bank account, but a full Swiss bank in your pocket
  • Bitcoin is not just money on the internet, it’s the “Internet of Money”, a programmable monetary base layer internet protocol like TCP/IP or HTTP
  • Bitcoin is the world’s largest, most secure, and most powerful supercomputer
  • Bitcoin is like putting a calculator in charge of a global monetary and financial system
  • Bitcoin is insurance against the debt bubble
  • Bitcoin is like beanie babies, except for ending human slavery
  • Bitcoin is a global anti-authoritarian political movement and a peaceful technological revolution

Bitcoins are “magic internet tokens” that you can store inside an app on a smart phone!!

Silly little made up internet points, that for some reason people pay tens of thousands of dollars for…

Bitcoin is the Manhattan project for human freedom. An escape hatch from our monopolistic fiat-capitalist global economic system.

My personal favorite analogy for explaining bitcoin goes a little like this:

Imagine there’s this huge elephant, and a group of blind monks all walk up to it and start feeling it up to try and make sense of it.

Right so one monk is petting it’s head, another is on its back feeling it’s ridged spine, there’s a monk clinging to one of its tusks, one pulling on it’s ears, another is tossing around it’s testicles, and yet another is rubbing on its toes.

The elephant of course is bitcoin in this analogy, there’s so many different pieces, it’s impossible for any one of us (the blind monks) to get a sense of it fully.

What makes it even more difficult to explain to new people is that there is no good elevator pitch for bitcoin, it truly depends on where you’re coming from, your prerequisite knowledge, and personal values.

Ask three strangers what Bitcoin is, and you will probably get three very different answers. Any answer is necessarily shaped by past experience, political and economic beliefs, and an individual understanding of the world. Your personal set of ideas, your world view, defines where you are on the landscape of ideas.


Explaining to the monk touching the elephant’s tusks what the testicles feel like is totally a lost cause.

My job of course is to lead you little monks all around the elephant, feeling all the parts to get a sense of something totally new. This of course requires a bit of commitment from the student, however I can promise you that you will find it very rewarding if you stick around.


21 Lessons – Gigi

The Internet of Money – Andreas Antonopoulos



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