November 28, 2023

MIAMI – There was money in the air. Buzzwords were buzzing around, such as NFT, BTD, Blockchain, Token. There was a raging energy.

And there was heat – a damp, stifling heat in South Florida; of the kind warned all Californians and New Yorkers who moved to Miami during the winter doldrums of the pandemic. The kind created by thousands upon thousands of people who gather to worship at the altar of cryptocurrencies.

Such was the mood at Bitcoin 2021, an occasional gathering of digital currency enthusiasts run by a magazine named after the cryptocurrency. Last year’s event had been postponed. But at least 12,000 people came to Miami on Friday and Saturday to make up for lost time and flocked to the world’s largest Bitcoin conference and the first major personal business conference since the pandemic began.

The exuberance of being inside for the first time in more than a year, in a crowd, was electrifying. Everyone hugged, no one masked. The money was zipped between digital wallets. The conference swag included neon fanny packs, festival wristbands and a Lamborghini car. The jargon – stablecoin, peer-to-peer, private key – flowed. Likewise the schnapps.

For a few days the city was a raging fireball of finance, technology and joyous anarchy, of unfathomable wealth and desperate pursuit. Bitcoin 2021 heralded the withdrawal of the pandemic, with reassuringly familiar and everyday elements of a business conference: the branded plastic sunglasses, colorful sponsor stands, lanyards and panels. Some participants wore business casuals. Others looked ready for a music festival. One wore a furry rave bikini.

It was another sign that the often absurd world of digital currencies was heading towards mainstream acceptance or at least mainstream curiosity. Bitcoin has been on a wild ride since the end of last year, setting price records. Even a dramatic slump from a high of $ 64,000 in April to now $ 36,000 could not dampen sentiment. You are BTD – buy the dip. Wall Street bankers, institutional investors, and Senator Cynthia Lummis, a Republican from Wyoming, everyone came to Miami.

Was everyone there to smuggle, revolutionize the global financial system, or just get rich?

Several attendees told me the event was offering catharsis, a signal that the pandemic was really over. The Friday morning queue to enter the venue, a warehouse and outdoor compound called Mana Wynwood, stretched for more than a mile. It was the biggest crowd I’d seen in a year.

Others were just there to celebrate. The bar opened immediately and had as many customers as the coffee station.

There was a reason we were in Miami and not New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. The city is full of crypto.

Bitcoin ATMs speckled the Wynwood neighborhood. A cryptocurrency exchange called FTX recently bought the naming rights to the Miami Heat arena. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez announced earlier this year that the city would accept cryptocurrency tax payments, use it to collect salaries for its employees, and see if they would keep some on their balance sheets. (The logistics of these announcements are still under investigation.)

When the crowd poured into the air-conditioned warehouse just after 9 a.m. on Friday, a conference organizer introduced Mr. Suarez as “probably the most irresponsible politician in America, the mayor of the Mecca of Freedom.”

Mr. Suarez used a defiant tone. “I’m here to tell all haters and doubters that this is not a moment, this is a movement,” he said. The crowd burst into whistles and cheers.

Moishe Mana, the real estate mogul who owned the venue, walked the crowded hall of stalls and crypto-art with a small entourage. After years of working bringing businesses, people, and innovation to the city, he basked in the rise of Miami.

The appeal of New York and San Francisco was fading, said Mr. Mana. “Every city has its own golden age,” he added. “Nothing lasts for ever.”

Mr. Mana wasn’t a big crypto guy per se, but he recognized his power and compared his followers’ devotion to a religion. “The more you fight religion, the more sacred it becomes and the stronger the movement becomes,” he said.

On stage, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, entrepreneurs and cryptocurrency billionaires, preached to the choir. Cameron Winklevoss wore a t-shirt with a picture of the Federal Reserve building and headed “Rage Against the Machine,” an indication that the cryptocurrency was not controlled by a central government or bank.

“If you own a Bitcoin today, you will become a millionaire in the future. For sure. Congratulations, ”he said.

Later, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and payment company Square, offered his own assistance. “If I wasn’t on Square or Twitter, I would be working on Bitcoin,” he said.

On Saturday, the conference played a video of Nayib Bukele, the President of El Salvador, who announced a bill to make Bitcoin legal tender in the country. The audience jumped to thunderous standing ovations.

A day earlier and a few blocks away, about 50 people gathered at a warehouse co-working space called LAB Miami to talk about the digital art and collectibles known as NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, that are coming up this year Have gained popularity.

About half of the group were Miami residents like Stephanie Davis, who quit her job at Google in Silicon Valley and moved with her husband Eric Kami last year. Mr. Kami, who also worked at Google, has a socks start-up called Tribe Socks.

In Silicon Valley, it would lead to people asking if they were okay, Ms. Davis said. But in Miami she said: “Everyone says ‘Congratulations!'”

Drew Austin, an entrepreneur and investor, spoke outside the room describing his success at NBA Top Shot, a website that buys and sells digital basketball clips. Another panelist, Alex Taub, stepped in to clarify, “He’s essentially spent $ 30,000 to $ 50,000 and it’s worth more than $ 2 million.”

Mr. Austin credits NBA Top Shot for making cryptocurrencies available to mainstream users. “I’ve been preaching crypto to my friends since 2013 and the first time any of them have done anything to crypto is NBA Top Shot,” he said.

The conversation revolved around the recent slump in the NFT market. According to an analysis by Protos, a crypto-focused media company, the weekly value of NFT sales has fallen 90 percent since its euphoric high in early May.

“Ninety percent of the NFTs will be worthless,” warned Mr. Taub.

The conversation went on to Zed Run, a website dedicated to buying, running, and breeding digital horses. Ali Spagnola, a popular YouTuber who sold her pictures as NFTs, asked Roman Tirone, head of business partnerships at Zed Run, how long the digital horses live.

“The horses never die,” he said.

Down the street at the historic Lyric Theater drank a lot of wine at a “Wine, Women and Crypto” meeting. Najah Roberts, a cryptocurrency executive, and Hill Harper, the actor who developed an app called The Black Wall Street, said investing in cryptocurrencies is an important step towards financial freedom and prosperity for the black community.

“You can’t colonize Bitcoin,” said Hill, who wore a t-shirt that made reference to the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, which said, “Satoshi is black.”

According to a survey by The Ascent, a financial services review site, only 14 percent of American adults have bought cryptocurrency. Of those who haven’t, 20 percent said they plan to do so this year.

One attendee, Shownda Pagan, a nonprofit executive, said she bought Bitcoin and another cryptocurrency, Dogecoin, over a year ago after her nephew and son encouraged her to do so. She also bought shares in AMC, the troubled cinema chain that has skyrocketed and become a “meme stock” that is being pounded on by traders on social media. She said she was overwhelmed by the rapid increase in her holdings.

“Now I’m in love with this stuff,” she said.

As the sky turned pink and then black, in 2021 Bitcoin split into cocktail hours, rooftop dinners, boat parties, and clubs.

I saw colleagues who had worked together for a year on Slack and Zoom meet and hug each other for the first time. Under the fairy lights eating sushi buffet, a young man was talking about something called DeFi staking. EDM tapped gently.

Some gossiped about last night’s “Whale” party held for attendees who bought a special $ 19,795 conference ticket, speculating about who was going to be in a boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Sunday. , the former boxer and current crypto dealer, would win Logan Paul, the YouTuber. (Mr Mayweather had spoken on Bitcoin 2021.) Elon Musk, who can make cryptocurrencies fluctuate with a single tweet, was praised and ridiculed.

After a year of isolation, it felt like Twitter came to life. But we were all there together and the view was beautiful.