Every September in the 1980s until 1993, there was a culture clash among regular usenet users and nubes who were logging on for the first time. Usenet as some of you may be old enough to remember, was the precursor to the modern internet that we know today. It was started at Duke University and soon became connected to other Universities and ARPANET to share research or correspond to others on the network.
Each September, incoming Freshman would join Usenet for the very first time and get their first look at an early internet experience. As they logged on, they would get excited about the endless number of ideas this enabled or criticised the technology for its potential downsides. However there was a third force on the network that always won out: older Usenet users. These people would get annoyed and try to teach them “netiquette” or etiquette of the net. They would also add context to those “new and exciting ideas” or quell the fears of the technology. After a while things would settle down as social norms were accepted by some users or people who disagreed would leave. The cycle would repeat until 1993.
In 1993, AOL added Usenet access for its 5 million users. Unfortunately for the Usenet community, the large number of AOL users far outnumbered the number of researchers and university students. On January 26, 1994, a Usenet user named Dave Fischer posted:
“It’s moot now. September 1993 will go down in net.history as the September that never ended.”
Eternal September was born as a new culture began to take over the fringe users of Usenet.
As 2017 came and went, the texts a lot of us received stopped being about what to buy and transitioned into people thinking Bitcoin was a scam. However we all know they took away the wrong lesson just as people did after the dot com bubble. In the midst of the dot com bubble bankruptcies were the gems like Google and Amazon. The “terrible ideas” of Pets.com and Webvan weren’t bad ideas, they were simply too early. Look at their modern cousins: Chewy and Instacart. So what was in that 2017 mania for Bitcoiners? The blocksize war, the lightning network, Taproot, MAST, etc. Those things are just being deployed now. The people that left Bitcoin in 2018 annoyed, just like some Freshmen did by October, are going to be some of our biggest critics and it’ll be hard for them to see the beyond their financial losses.
As we pass block 700,000, we are still in the summer and another September approaches. Our September is the bull run that typically happens 18 months after a halvening. A new wave of nubes are coming with the same excitement and fear as previous Septembers. The environmental impact of Bitcoin, Tether manipulation, China’s control, wealth inequality of a few addresses holding most of the coins, quantum computers, etc. If you were around in 2017 or earlier, you recognize these arguments because of how often they come up by Freshmen Bitcoiners. Thanks to Nic Carter, we have even been able to succinctly put them onto FUD dice but we need a new version removing China.
The common conception in the 1980s was that the general public would never use the internet. Students would join, learn to use the network and email to accomplish the task, graduate and never come back. It was too complicated and only a highly technical group of users could use it day to day. Sound familiar?
Fortunately for us, once a technology is created, there is never putting it back into the bottle. There were a few key things that allowed the digital revolution to take off:
- The PC was now accessible for most people as an onramp to the internet
- Dial up connectivity was mostly ubiquitous as it was transmitted over phone lines
- Regulatory clarity under the US Munitions Law
- Netscape and AOL found a way to package up the necessary components and put it in a box
I don’t believe that history repeats itself but do believe that it rhymes. So far as a society we have:
- Smartphones that are widely accessible for people globally
- 4G and 5G connectivity is widely deployed and Starlink is scaling quickly.
The things are missing are regulatory clarity and a simplified user experience. El Salvador making Bitcoin legal tender could be seen as AOL dumping 5 million users onto the network but will most likely been seen as kicking off regulatory clarity globally. The user experience has gotten far better with the explosion of reputable exchanges with fairly easy to use wallets. However yesterday’s verdict against Apple by Epic Games may be the final push needed to start the race towards mass adoption. Regardless, I think we can collectively make great progress towards these issues by 2026, our next September.
The debate between another cycle ending this year based off the stock to flow model or a super cycle is ongoing. Personally I lean towards the fact that not enough work is in place yet for a super cycle to occur. Regardless, Bitcoin’s Eternal September is coming, possibly as early as 2026, and we need to prepare for the culture shift.
What does Bitcoin look like when multiple nation states hold Bitcoin in their treasury? Or if there are multiple country wide bans following China?
What does Bitcoin look like when there are multiple Michael Saylors and more than a handful of Fortune 500 companies holding Bitcoin on the balance sheet? Or if there are multiple Buffets, Elons, or Cubans?
What does Bitcoin look like if a larger portion of the Senate is comprised of open minded people people like Cynthia Lummis? Or if the Senate is filled with people like Elizabeth Warren?
What does Bitcoin look like if we are using Lightning to transact and custodying their own coins in hardware wallets? Or if people prefer their phone becoming the hardware wallet or it’s left on exchanges?
The spectrum is wide and September is approaching. I am not sure where any of this will go but I know where I’d like it to go before summer ends. Collectively we need to have the open conversation with this years incoming Freshmen who are currently flocking to an art class. If we fail to teach people bitiquette, we may wind up with a Bitcoin community that is resemblant of today’s tech giants.
Published in 1996, years after Eternal September was in full swing, John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote The Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace. Unfortunately, it was too late.