Blockchain innovations like NFTs and cryptocurrencies, as complicated as the may seem to the average person, are showing no signs of slowing down. Rather, they will only become more and more a part of our daily lives. Here to unravel the complicated lingo and never-ending whirlwind of crypto-related headlines is Laura Shin, the first mainstream reporter to cover crypto assets full-time.
The host of the podcast “Unchained”, Shin draws from her background in journalism and finance to demystify the revolutionary world of crypto and blockchain technology in an enjoyable and accessible way for her audience.
In February 2022, Shin released her book, The Cryptopians: Idealism, Greed, Lies, and the Making of the First Big Cryptocurrency Craze — a deep dive into the story of crypto and its broader impact on the world we live in today.
In an interview with Arts Help, Shin discusses her journey with crypto and her passion for sharing the game-changing technology with everyone from seasoned blockchain experts to new arrivals to the scene.
How did you first get involved in the crypto and blockchain conversation, and what was it about it that made you want to dive deeper?
I had been covering personal finance for about four years and was kind of getting tired of it — it’s not a beat that changes. I was freelancing for Forbes at the time, and my editors asked if I wanted to head up the Forbes Fintech 50 list. The other reporter leading it and I divided the list into categories, and I took digital currencies and just became completely obsessed!
That was seven years ago now, and a year after that I started the podcast. In early 2018 I left Forbes because I realized the podcast was becoming popular, and I used the other half of my time to work on my book.
You’re the host of the podcast “Unchained” where you talk about crypto and its implications for everything from politics to law — what do you like about podcasts for tackling these discussions?
Questioning [the people who built crypto] is really helpful to the audience, especially because people may be putting their money into the projects that these people are building. On top of that, some people see that there’s easy money to be had in this space, so they maybe don’t always have the best of intentions, and being able to ask tough questions to those people is helpful.
But frankly, it wasn’t even necessarily that I thought that there was anything better about podcasts to do crypto interviews than an article, it’s just that I love podcasts myself and I listen to them all the time!
If you have been paying much attention to the crypto community, I think you’ll see that there’s a lot of characters in it, so through a podcast, you also kind of get a flavor of the personalities, which can be really fun. Sometimes I just interview somebody and ask them what they’re working on, and other times I’ll interview two different people who aren’t working together and have them discuss a topic. There's a lot of different opinions, and there’s definitely a lot of things to discuss in crypto, so those kinds of conversational shows are really fun as well.
Crypto is a space where everyone is always learning no matter how long you’ve been there. In your time researching the crypto space and speaking to a wide range of experts, what is one of the most surprising or insightful things that you’ve learned?
When I look back at crypto and Bitcoin, the creator of it had this idea that it was a new way of doing things after the financial crisis. As we saw that happening, the cachet of careers was shifting from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. What's interesting is that now, through crypto (partially accelerated by the pandemic) it's shifted away from Silicon Valley to the world.
Crypto is very, very global. In general, I feel like there's a lot of ways in which the crypto movement has really shown that tech isn’t being driven by Silicon Valley anymore.
What are the biggest misconceptions about the blockchain and crypto?
One is that people think everything in crypto is a scam. Certainly there are some scams, but the real builders are actually normal, honest people who have an idea and want to build on it.
I would say the main misconception that I see is around the understanding of decentralization and centralization and what they really mean. The conception of decentralization takes a little bit of time for people to wrap their minds around. There are nuances — it’s not that literally every single blockchain is decentralized. But, in an ideal world, many of them are aiming to be.
The rise in popularity of NFTs over the past two year has drawn large numbers of people to the crypto space, and not just people with a background in finance or tech. Do you think that this shift in demographics and expansion of the community is causing any changes in the world of crypto and the types of conversations that are being held?
For sure! I used to cover environmental issues before personal finance, so I was shocked when I got into crypto that nobody really seemed to care about environmental topics. Even now, when I interview some people, they say things like “I think people won’t care about [the environmental side] in a short while” and I say “no no no, they’re caring more!”
It has been a little bit of an undercurrent — this is one of the motivations that Vitalik Buterin has always cited for why the Ethereum community has decided they would like to move to Proof of Stake. In general, I wouldn’t say that it’s been top of mind for crypto people, but now that it's become a bigger space with more types of people, I think they recognize we have to deal with this. I think it just goes to show that the “normies” who are coming in are really changing the conversation.
As you've just noted, there is a growing movement within crypto to be more environmentally conscious. Some platforms, however, are still using unsustainable Proof of Work technology — why do you think that is?
Most of the industry is moving to Proof of Stake — pretty much all the new chains are PoS, so we’re already seeing that shift. Most likely Bitcoin will not shift, and that is probably just due to the conservatism of the Bitcoin community. They want to keep the asset as secure as possible. I think they’re very loath to make changes that might cause the asset that they have to be less secure.
Would you say you have a more optimistic outlook in terms of crypto becoming more sustainable over the next few years?
I would imagine so, just because of how I’ve already seen this shift start to happen. I can't imagine it will revert in the other direction. Like I said, people didn’t used to discuss these issues as much as they do know, so that already shows that there’s probably going to be even more improvement in that regard.
What do you see on the horizon for crypto’s future?
We’re already seeing this happening, but I think DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) are going to be a big thing. They’re already becoming quite popular, and this just goes into the decentralization aspect that people are really into. It just makes sense for the fact that so much more of our lives now are digital — it's sort of an extension of how people are already interacting online.
What advice do you have for people who are new to crypto and who may be concerned about its environmental impact?
If you’re concerned about the environmental impact, I would just say to do your own research and figure out that there are a bunch of blockchains that don’t have a heavy carbon footprint, so you can just participate in those communities.
In terms of general advice, I’d say don’t look at this like investing, where you put in your money and passively wait for it to go up. In crypto, you can actually use the blockchain technology, which I think is a really good way of understanding the utility of different blockchains if you’re going to invest.
Check out Laura Shin's new book The Cryptopians: Idealism, Greed, Lies, and the Making of the First Big Cryptocurrency Craze here.
To learn more about how to use crypto sustainable, check our our Conscious Crypto Creator movement.