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Bitcoin Has Gone Mainstream. That's a Very Big Deal

Last week, my eighth-grader came home saying that all the boys at school were talking about bitcoin. Some might describe this vignette, and many others like it from the past few weeks, as a 2017 version of that ominous 1929 moment when shoeshine boys started giving stock tips. But whether or not they signal the bursting of a bubble, these stories also mean something far more important: bitcoin has gone mainstream. I'm not talking about the long-awaited mass adoption point in which a critical mass of users owns, earns and spends bitcoin. We're still a long way from that notion of "mainstream." Rather, it's a moment of global awareness and dialogue. Even without user adoption, it opens up an immeasurably large array of possibilities, both positive and negative. As crypto-asset prices have gone haywire this past month, the whole world has started talking about bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology – around dinner tables, at holiday parties, in boardrooms, at trade conferences, in government meetings. At this stage, it's not a sophisticated conversation. Knowledge and understanding are still seriously lacking. But people are gripped with curiosity, and that's no small matter. This human conversation can't be separated, either, from the widening engagement of institutions, big and small. Business news shows and websites are now running the BTC ticker on their home screens alongside the Dow Jones Industrials. Every day, mainstream newspapers and online publications run high-profile articles on bitcoin, ICOs and decentralized approaches to everything from ridesharing and supply chain management to social media and healthcare. Established companies are forming research consortia with their suppliers, vendors, competitors and new crypto startups to define the future open-source protocols of their industries. The World Bank, the IMF and other multilateral institutions are setting up blockchain labs for development and humanitarian objectives. Central banks are exploring programmable, digital fiat currency prototypes that, despite being government-controlled and centralized, could disintermediate banks and stoke a global competition for new monetary models. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of entrepreneurs in dozens of different countries are launching moon-shot ideas to disrupt virtually every market on earth. There is no turning back. The age of cryptocurrency has arrived.