An open letter to Satoshi Nakamoto

Ten years young.
Ten years young.
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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Dear Satoshi,

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of when you posted the white paper (pdf) that first introduced the idea of what would become bitcoin.

How did you feel when you shared your vision with the world? Was there a rush of adrenaline? Were you worried what people would think? Maybe that you overlooked something?

So it’s been a decade since you introduced yourself to the world as “Satoshi Nakamoto,” but I still don’t know who you are, or even if “you” are an individual. Nonetheless, you’ve had an indelible impact on my life, and on the lives of so many others. Did you have any idea that bitcoin would grow into the rebellious and revolutionary force that it has become? Could you have known that it would captivate—and befuddle—millions of people, across the world?

Would you have done it again, if you knew that thousands upon thousands of people would risk their financial security in pursuit of instant wealth? Was this all meant to be an experiment? Has it gone horribly wrong, or is it just as you expected?

Since you posted the paper so much has happened, but somehow it also feels like we still have a long way to go for bitcoin and blockchain.

Because of bitcoin, politicians, economists, and philosophers have wondered aloud whether cryptocurrencies could now—or in the distant future—displace the world’s central banking systems. Because of bitcoin, peer-to-peer digital monetary exchange has become a reality. Because of bitcoin, people across the world are thinking about alternative finance and remittances and privacy and autonomy. Because of bitcoin, my dad was able to buy a subscription to watch cricket games on a sketchy website.

Bitcoin has changed the way that people understand—and in some cases, acquire—wealth. Your invention woke us up to the rent-seeking middlemen who serve as intermediaries in many of our daily lives. And, while the value of bitcoin in circulation has climbed ever higher, into the hundreds of billions of dollars, you made me realize that dollars, too, are just vessels subject to the whims of social constructs.

If bitcoin has taught us anything, it’s that the barriers to market entry and competition continue to erode in the increasingly digital world, and that we must be aware of the impact our financial systems (and accompanying design choices) have on people from all walks of life.

I don’t know if these are the lessons you wanted us to learn, or what was going through your mind back on October 31, 2008. But I think I speak for many when I say, “Thank you, whoever you are.”

A version of this essay first appeared in Private Key, Quartz’s premium newsletter about the chaotic world of crypto. Sign up for a free two-week trial here, and enter code “privatekey20off” for 20% off your membership.