How to talk about cryptocurrency at the holiday dinner table

You’re sitting down to a nice meal and your aunt, always one step ahead, mentions she wants to start investing in Bitcoin. You freeze, a drip of gravy plopping off the ladle. It’s your time to shine.

You got this.

First, you know that the state of crypto is very, very good. This has been a banner year for cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin rose from $738 a year ago to $8220 as of this year. If you invested $7000 in Bitcoin in November 2016 you’d be rounding into six figures by now. The same can be said about Ethereum with a bump from $9 in 2016 to $350 in 2017. Check out these graphs:

It’s enough to make your aunt want to sell her summer home and dump it all into the blockchain! But should she?

Probably not.

Interestingly, as the price has risen and the fluctuations have become more manageable, talk of crypto investing has died down. There are many reasons, but the primary one is that the crypto world loves to keep quiet and take profits on the sly. This means if you’re planning on getting in you’d best act decisively. You can dabble, sure, but if you want to see real returns I do not expect things to fall back down to $3,000 or even $5,000. We’re almost at a set-point for the next few months and, barring flash crashes, don’t expect much to change barring some wild SEC regulation.

We’ve entered a strange era in cryptocurrencies. The technology is mature enough that anyone can implement a blockchain solution — from small fintechs to MasterCard — but not yet trusted enough to become a true store of general value. However the recent Segwit2x failure essentially showed the world that the “rulers” of the blockchain, namely the whales who have millions in crypto and the miners, want BTC to avoid becoming a utility and act more as a commodity. They don’t want to turn the blockchain into a credit card transaction service but instead want a way to store and transfer massive hordes of cash electronically.

Ethereum, on the other hand, will be the utility. The price should rise until after January but will probably fall drastically once the first of the poorly-orchestrated ICOs fail. It will rise again once the the first true ICOs — the true token sales that approach this with an eye on monetary management vs. get rich quick  schemes— begin rolling out. This will happen in the first and second quarters. How do you pick a good token sale? Right now you can’t. Your best bet is to buy Ether on a dip and avoid the weirder token solutions that come over the pike. Tokens are, in my my opinion, the future. Just not in their current form.

Ultimately, the Ethereum network will grow to handle more transactions and Bitcoin will remain the same, a safeguard and bulwark for those who don’t want to keep their gold doubloons in a safe under the floor.

Is your aunt still hounding you for advice? If she owns she should hold. If she doesn’t own, she might as well give it a try. Make a her a Coinbase account and buy a few hundred dollars worth of BTC and Ether. Let her watch it move and begin to acclimate herself to the news cycle and, more importantly, the hype cycle. Remember: results may vary and this does not constitute investment advice any more than me saying “Hey, you should try learning to use Linux. You might make a really nice salary when it gets popular” back in 1992.

Cryptocurrencies are entering the mainstream. There are a few problems with its current popularity, the primary one being that people are entering the market without understanding it. This is fine – this has been practiced for decades on the NASDAQ with untrained traders making gut-based guesses on complex companies – but in crypto the technology is wedded to the price and misunderstanding the news coming out of services like CoinDesk can get you into a lot of trouble. To a degree the crypto loyalists love the fact that their world is inscrutable. To another degree this makes for some nail-biting times.

Tell your family that cryptocurrency will eventually replace the way we send money from computer to computer. Tell them that there are a lot of smart people doing a lot of cool stuff that was impossible even a few years ago. And tell them that, no, the FBI won’t arrest them for trading in Bitcoin and that it can’t be used very effectively to call in hits or buy kilos of cocaine online. Ultimately this is all a gamble but it’s a gamble that mixes the high-stakes world of Wall Street with the high tech world of command lines. It’s complex, fascinating, and fun. If it becomes anything less than that then it’s probably time to cash out.