Wheels on Luggage: Crypto Mass Adoption Is Not a Technology Problem
Why doesn’t more crypto mass adoption happen?
Everyone involved in crypto has wondered why mass adoption hasn’t happened. Common reasons for this are that the technology has not reached a maturity level, it is not scalable enough and the dev tools are worse than web 2.0 tools.
These are all true but technology isn’t the only reason there isn’t mass adoption.
Technology is necessary but not sufficient for large-scale adoption. When I hear that crypto mass adoption is primarily an issue of technology, I recall a story Robert Schiller from Yale told me about suitcases.
Add wheels to your luggage
It goes like this: The idea of general vacation travel is a concept that has been around since the mid-19th-century, when larger scale steamship and rail travel made it possible for a wider audience. Since then, people have used luggage to travel.
Initial luggage was made of trunks. For the majority of the 20th Century, suitcases looked something like this.
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Image courtesy Michael Kammerer. Wikipedia
After decades of carrying luggage around, Bernard Sadow received a patent in 1972 for his invention of putting wheels on suitcases.
Image taken from patent listing
Image sourced from this blog
Although it seems obvious and practical to put wheels on suitcases, adoption of the new rolling suitcases in the 70s was difficult. They were deemed too feminine and unsuitable for men to adopt. The design was not easy to use. It would fishtail behind you when you moved it forward, making it difficult to maneuver.
These design issues were not solved until Robert Plath, Northwest Airlines pilot, came up with the idea of placing two wheels along the edge of the case and a long telescoping handle. In 1991 , he was granted the patent for his Rollaboard.
Image sourced from the patent listing
1991! Let’s think about this for a moment. It’s amazing that for more than 100 years, people carried their luggage hand-carried around without ever thinking about putting wheels on it.
Plath targeted flight attendants as early adopters of the Rollaboard, which was key to its mass adoption. Others would see flight attendants and pilots dragging their luggage through airports to get on planes. It had two effects: it was a visible demonstration of the technology’s utility, and it helped to overcome the stigma associated with it.
This story has important lessons to learn about mass adoption of crypto or any other technology. It is clear that everyone understood and was able to use the technology (wheel). It is obvious that many people have wondered why it took so long to invent the idea of attaching wheels to luggage. It was then that it was still difficult to adopt. What was the secret to mass adoption?
Are Cryptoheading to 100 Years without Wheels?
This story shows how technology can be around for a long time before someone thinks of using it to solve a problem. This doesn’t happen by itself or automatically. You may not see it right away. It’s only apparent in retrospect.
This fact makes it seem absurd to argue that “we just have to keep building and scaling cryptocurrency infrastructure and technology and that adoption will follow”. This logic could lead to 100 years of waiting for wider crypto adoption.
Technology is an essential condition, but not sufficient, for wider mass adoption of a product or solution. Crypto is a case in point. We have met the basic functional requirements. While the technology’s scalability is important, it is not the primary challenge.
Changes in the environment that make the solution more applicable are also necessary. This was in the case with wheeled luggage, the expansion of air travel. People had to transport their luggage themselves over longer and more distances. This is what I see as the growing digitization of crypto (software “eating” the world), with value-bearing system being the last to have an open, natively internet-centric version. It seems like these conditions are becoming more common.
What is stopping the widespread adoption of crypto? This is what we all want. It boils down to the need for a catalyst. It should serve the same purpose as the Rollaboards of flight crews for wheeled luggage. This scenario involves relatable people who use crypto to solve problems better and faster than any other method.
I spent a lot of time contemplating what this scenario might look like for crypto and who the key early adopters could possibly be. I don’t have the answers. However, I don’t believe that Bitcoins are a catalyst. It must be something people can relate to and that can alter their mental models of how things should work. I believe that Millennials living on the other end of an ever-growing wealth gap will be driving this change. Perhaps DeFi and the additional returns it can provide over existing investments can be a catalyst. Whatever it turns out to be, I am certain it will happen.