I met Vitalik Buterin for the first time in Miami, during a Bitcoin conference in 2014. I had been invited by a Bitcoiner I knew in New York to stay at a beach house with a team of developers who were working on the next big thing, a technology called Ethereum. I was told it would blow Bitcoin out of the water. Buterin and about a dozen programmers were sharing the house, using it as a headquarters for crafting their ideas. But it had become an after-hours grease trap for other conference-goers as well. This was during Bitcoin’s brief Wolf of Wall Street phase when the price was up around $800. Three months earlier—when the price was even higher—the U.S. Senate had held hearings to confront some of the regulatory anxieties borne from the cryptocurrency scene. The proceedings had gone bizarrely well. And so, early adopters had arrived in Miami flush with cash and high on a spate of good news.
I remember waking up the first morning of the conference. I had fallen asleep the night before while most everyone was still awake, bedding down with a couch pillow in some back hallway of the house, earplugs in, hoodie cinched. When I walked into the living room I found it empty of people, but blinking and whirring with technology. Extension cords snaked across the floor, looping around empty beer bottles and the legs of a whiteboard that was tagged with equations and diagrams. I tried and failed to find an outlet for my phone.