Turning nothing into something

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The Housewife Rig

I’ve been sitting on this little story for a few weeks because I didn’t want to overload you with crypto content. When I was in Miami I had a fascinating conversation with two attendees at Bitcoin 2022. It didn’t change my perception of Bitcoin, but I do think it helped me better understand the kind of people who are investing in this whole thing.

On my last day of the conference, I was trying to talk to as many consumer-level investors as I could. I had spent the previous couple days sitting in panel talks, listening to Bitcoin maximalists talk about using Bitcoin to realize their dream of living in a techno-feudal fiefdom in Arizona or whatever and wanted to see what average Bitcoin users were like. If there were even any.

I approached a man named Shawn (who was wearing a Pepe the Frog shirt) and asked him if he was up for chatting about Bitcoin with me. He quickly told me that he was not the right person to talk to. In fact, the Pepe shirt was just conference swag he had picked up that week. He was only at the conference, he said, because of his wife.

She walked over and introduced herself as Brandi. It was their first time in Miami and their first time at a Bitcoin convention, but Brandi was very excited about it. You see, Shawn worked in refrigeration for local super markets in their town and a few years ago, she asked Shawn to help her make her what she calls her “housewife rig”.

“I wanted to get into the mining. I didn't have a whole lot,” she told me. “So I checked what I could add. I call it my ‘housewife rig.’ Because when you're a housewife, you're not necessarily a miner, you work with what you have, right? So I found the back piece of bathroom furniture that looks like a shield. We took it apart. I sat it up, [Shawn] took a piece of unistrut and laid it across the top. So I have my my rig sitting in one spot with the risers running from it.”

Don’t worry, guys. She sent me a photo.

She said that the graphics cards are held up with plastic birthday string. “For kids’ birthday parties. Kids are destructive,” she said.

I asked her if she was comfortable telling me how much she’s mined with her housewife rig and she estimated she’s probably made $500 worth of Bitcoin with it since the start of this year. I’m not sure what her electricity bill is, but I suppose the idea is that the electricity bill will stay the same amount, but the $500 in Bitcoin she’s mined will be worth a lot more in the future.

“For taking the little bit that I had and turning nothing into something. I'm patting myself on the back,” she said.

I think it’s very easy lump Bitcoiners all in with each other. I know I definitely did. And the fact that the leaders in the community are so fixated on cancel culture and other weird right-wing reactionary stuff doesn’t help. But I do think there are a lot of people who are being drawn to this world in the same way Brandi is. Many consumer-level investors I met had a similar kind of pride in themselves for, as Brandi put it, “turning nothing into something.”

Which, of course, you can argue is just part of the crypto pyramid scheme: Buy now and become millionaires in the future, etc. You can also argue that it’s not really nothing into something, it’s consuming energy for, arguably, no reason, at the expense of the environment. Which makes any story about crypto extremely complicated to wrestle with (which is probably why I like reporting on it). I spoke to one miner in Miami who argued that Bitcoin’s energy consumption was, in fact, how it derives its value and any version of Bitcoin that doesn’t require more and more energy would be worthless. Which was an objectively horrifying conversation to have.

We don’t know where crypto is going. It could be a massive bubble ready to burst any minute. It could be a series of overlapping bubbles. It could be gold that billionaires will eventually hoard in their palaces on the moon. We just have no idea yet.

But beyond the creepy sci-fi libertarian stuff, I do think there are a lot of normal people who are casually attracted to crypto because they just think it’s kind of cool. I mean, a housewife building a Bitcoin mining rig in her bathroom is unquestionably cyberpunk. And it’s sort of a bummer that average people who are willing to experiment with new technology don’t have a better technology to play around with.

“We kind of hodgepodged it and we put it together, but that sucker runs like a champ,” she said.

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BugTexting Your Mom

Amidst the shitstorm of this week, one bright spot was a wonderful participatory meme going around. The basics are that you have to text your mom “what if I was a bug” out of the blue and see what she says. The responses are heartwarming and hilarious. I tried it out on my mom for the purpose of this column and was rewarded thusly: 

There’s a scarcity to timelessness in the current platform maelstrom of social media. Algorithmic churn has shortened the lifecycles of trends to nanoseconds everywhere from fashion to music. Everything that you see is probably connected in some complicated way to something else: a clapback, a response, a take, a remix. Just exerting the effort to parse out the context behind any given tweet can frequently be exhausting.

“What if I was a bug” might pass just as quickly as any other meme, but its utter isolation from any sort of mass-culture franchise or current event or digital controversy is what makes it a pure delight. I mean, okay, I guess you could connect it to Kafka’s Metamorphosis and thence to a general frustration at our collective state of physical and emotional alienation, but why would you, when you could just be generally charmed instead? 

And while the timing is likely coincidental, it’s nice to have a meme that requires parental participation spring up right around Mother’s Day this week. Like yes, obviously this week’s social media challenge should be to reach out to your mom/dad/significant other/friend and receive unconditional love in return!!!!!!! Love: the meme that will never die, or something. 

Scrolling through the Twitter search for “what would you do if i was a bug” gives me the same warm fuzzy feeling that the “Dracula Daily” tag on Tumblr does. For those not in the know, DraculaDaily is a project run by designer Matt Kirkland that breaks up Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) into chunks and emails them to you via Substack on each day that part of the story happens, in-universe, between May and November. And Tumblr is absolutely all-in. Not just the classic literature fandom there but everyone. The memes are incredible.

Kirkland, who belongs firmly and endearingly to a Type Of Guy I once taxonomized as the OTPG (Online Techno-Polymath Guy), has unwittingly done something incredible: created a new fandom around an old property—but without actually doing any sort of actual adaptation other than copying and pasting into Substack. Serial fiction as a tradition, of course, goes back centuries: the appeal of getting to read an ongoing story and discuss it with your friends each day is obvious. And Dracula is honestly a damn perfect choice: a classic story everyone’s generally familiar with, but much fewer people actually know. 

What wholesome bug texts and Jonathan Harker’s adventures in Transylvanian real estate have in common is that they both act as small but impactful ways to make online communication fun again, versus something that makes you actively want to die. Dammit, they’ve both got whimsy! (Said in old-timey newspaper man voice.) 

Anyway, I wonder how Mina Harker would respond if Jonathan sent her a letter that just said “what if I was a bug.” 

What Does The Right-Wing Digital Media World Actually Look Like Right Now?

Just in case you thought I wasn’t negative enough above about the world of crypto, here’s some balance for you. The Southern Poverty Law Center has discovered a still-unidentified donor that’s sent Alex Jones $2 million worth of Bitcoin to aid Jones in his various ongoing legal battles. This is very bad and surely a scary preview of what’s to come. Conservative dark money is already a massive problem and the unaccountability of crypto will assuredly make it worse. The only upside here is that cryptocurrencies are only really anonymous as long as you don’t know where to look. Everything on the blockchain is public. Investigative reporters Michael Edison Hayden and Megan Squire said they’re going to continue to chase this story so I definitely recommend following them.

The Alex Jones news is also especially interesting in light of a recent survey from The Righting, which analyzes the web traffic for right-wing American publishers. According to The Righting, traffic to conservative news sites in March is down quite a bit. This slump is also in line with a lot of the metrics I pulled up while working on a story for The Verge about the freedom convoy. There’s been this assumption for years that right-wing media is inherently populist and anything else is artificially inflated, but it’s interesting to see how quickly the entire right-wing ecosystem falls apart without constant algorithmic support from social platforms. And the fact the entire right-wing tabloid-social media machine is now being weaponized against Madison Cawthorn also feels like an important detail. Things are changing and it’s not clear how.

Also, one last tangentially connected thing here you might find interesting. I came across this Reddit thread from the subreddit r/askaconservative titled, “Why are you so against being ‘woke?’” I thought the comments, which are kind of a mess of angry and defensive users being completely unable to define what it is they’re angry at, were actually kind of insightful to read all together.

My biggest takeaway is how many users pointed to TV and movies as examples of the wokeness that was, apparently, ruining their lives, which, for me, just reenforces how much of the current conservative agenda is based on making people mad about content.

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A Fun Look At Coordinating On r/Place

Last month, Reddit brought back their incredibly cool community game r/place, where users compete for pixel space in a digital king of the hill. Streamer Ross O'Donovan put out a video a few weeks after r/place shut down again, revealing how he and his fans coordinated during the game. He essentially created a pixel art template and then had a tool that would assign a pixel to a user. So his fans were able to click a link, get a color pixel and coordinates of where to place it, and easily work together inside of r/place.


Some Very Cool Witch Comics

It feels like these witch comics have been following me around the internet all month. They’re super fun. They’re created by an Italian artist named SimzArt. According to SimzArt’s Tumblr, the witch comics are all part of a series about modern witches that he’s developing. The comics have a real Ghibli vibe to them, but I especially like all the ghost cats.

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