Toni Lane Casserly wants world peace.
She tells me this as we sit in a conference room on a Wednesday afternoon, her voice not hesitating at all as she describes her strong beliefs. To some, world peace may sound like a faraway dream or even a complete impossibility, something that humankind will never be able to achieve. For those people, it’s a nice thought, of course, but also a completely unfeasible one. Yet Casserly believes that inventions like Bitcoin and the blockchain may indeed bring world peace within our reach.
However, we aren’t there yet, and Casserly acknowledges this. She describes the process of Bitcoin awareness as an “ongoing endeavor”. She also tells me about her wishes for more emotional maturity within the Bitcoin community, hoping that this could hold the potential for more open conversations. She recognizes that we are still in the earlier stages of Bitcoin, with a long (and exciting) journey ahead of us.
Casserly first became interested in Bitcoin in college, after learning of it from a fellow classmate. “Bitcoin, as most meaningful things in my life, found me,” she says. I sat down with her to discuss her work in the Bitcoin world so far, as well as her visions for the future of cryptocurrency – and for the world.
Emily Braun: So I’m actually familiar with the story of how you first heard about Bitcoin, but I’d love to hear the entire version from you!
Toni Lane Casserly: I finished a great deal of my college credits in high school, so when I went to university, my advisor told me, “Listen, you’re going to be here for at least two years based on the way prerequisite courses are structured, so feel free to take any classes you want to.” This was an intellectually evocative opportunity. I thought, “What truly inspires me? What systems are structuring the most power and impact in the world?” From this thought, I ended up being completely fascinated by political theory, economics, and philosophy.
As I took courses in these subjects, I slowly began to realize that the models of thought we have been using to structure logical systems in society are fundamentally broken. We are no longer living in the world that I was being taught about in theory. We were no longer living as citizens in an Aristotelian idea of state and society, because we have more power voting with our credit cards than we do in a national election. If you read any yearly reports, the broader body politic doesn’t even talk about people as citizens anymore. They are… we are all consumers. The power dynamic has shifted. Political interests as power are largely based on illusions. While they still hold water to inhibit the tides, the fundamental logic is economic.
I realized that we’re living in a Keynesian economy, and based on where corporate interests are structured, not only are Keynesian economics broken, but fundamentally, healthy people are bad for capitalism based on the people who are fueling the “public interest”. What is the “public interest” really? It’s simply the private interest branded as a public good from the public sector, which is a government owned not by the virtues of the citizens and their will, but rather, by the financial interests who propagate the evolution of the war machine.
During this period of deep study, I also came to the conclusion (which was hard to do as a poet) that human language is fundamentally imperfect. And the imperfection of language, the thing I loved and emotionalized more than anything in the world, was a key reason behind the failures and the largest manipulations that happened in these systems. Everyone can read the same book and study the same theory, but each person who dissects the knowledge is going to read it differently. I understood that the only language that could be truly perfect was the language of code and of math. 1+1 will always equal 2. You can’t spin that. If you type in code wrong, and it does not compute, it doesn’t work. However, if you speak to someone and they misinterpret you, you can both live with a misinterpretation for the rest of your lives, no one ever correcting you. In awakening to this truth, I realized the next generation of logic wasn’t going to come from humanity… well, in a sense, it was going to come from humanity but in a non-traditional way. It was going to come from the language of code and logic in pure form.
After this enlightenment, I decided to share my knowledge with the world around me in the form of a speech. Upon stepping down from the podium, I had someone approach me to ask, “Have you ever heard of Bitcoin?” They linked me to the forums and the white paper, and I immediately realized this person had connected me with my vision. This truth that had been willing me to live had already taken form. I knew I had found the future.
Braun: And what was the single most exciting aspect of Bitcoin to you, when you first had that realization?
Casserly: For the first time in our lives, we are actually able to define the way we think about politics, about logic, about money, about value… I saw this as a model for the next stage of the world, one that promotes both peace and a broader sense of equality. In doing so, I believe we can begin to create a more humanitarian planet that focuses on the success of the individual, while also building strong communities and cultures around Bitcoin or alternative systems of logic that can be controlled by people who are adding value, not by people who are using the system to manipulate others. With inventions like this, these inventions of abundance, the idea of world peace is not actually a dream but a very possible reality.
Braun: Is there a specific group of people or type of person in the world who you think could benefit the most from Bitcoin?
Casserly: You know, it’s everyone. It depends on what your needs are. If you live in a developed economy, you may want faster payments, or to skip the fees from banks skimming off your patronage, or maybe you want a different kind of payment platform that is more technologically advanced and cryptographically secure. If you are more apolitically minded, you may think, “I don’t want the federal reserve to dictate what the value of my currency is going to be. I’d like to participate in a system that gives me and the other people in this network more control.”
Of course, Bitcoin has amazing potential to benefit humanity while increasing network demand by providing for those living in underdeveloped countries without access to financial freedom. Argentina, Greece, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, disenfranchised communities, women at the mercy of disempowering societal laws… all of these are amazing use cases. Even if Bitcoin isn’t the complete solution in every instance, I believe the ability to create a digital currency will play an enormous role in the future to change the course of history of all these people and their communities.
Braun: So Bitcoin obviously hasn’t reached everyone yet. There are so many people who haven’t heard about it or only know the basic gist of the more negative stories. What else do you think needs to happen for people all over the world to learn about Bitcoin?
Casserly: The process of education is an ongoing endeavor. People are talking about Bitcoin presently because Greece is on the brink of a collapse. They’re going to take money from Russia, or the EU is going to step in… or they can place all of their assets onto a blockchain, reevaluate their entire country, and create a new currency. Greece has the potential to be a fundamental turning point, and I think the failures in our broader economic system will really get people excited. Something else quite interesting is that during Greece’s potential collapse, the markets in China lost three trillion dollars – more than the overall debt of Greece. The entire global economy is in a huge state of flux. I definitely don’t have enough knowledge to say with absolute certainty where the world will go or what anyone will do, but I think that both Bitcoin and the blockchain are going to revolutionize the way we think about these systems. What is going to create awareness for Bitcoin is the absolute necessity for it, whether the economy is failing or we’re saving an economy that has essentially already failed.
Braun: Is there anything you’d like to see happen differently with Bitcoin?
Casserly: I would like to see the community change. First and foremost, I would like to see certain influencers involved in our industry develop a higher degree of emotional maturity. I think that’s actually one of the largest problems in Bitcoin so far, the lack of emotional maturity. Granted, some of the digital brawls are spawned by paid trolls on Reddit who receive compensation from large organizations to fuel grassroots political insurgency. But at any rate, playing into this only creates further destruction. I would also love to see the community reach a broader consensus, have more open dialogues, and keep an apolitical currency apolitical. What’s amazing about this idea of Bitcoin is that it’s both the concept of a currency and a state. We have so many people who are already trying to use political leverage to manipulate things for their own self-interest, against the will of every other person attempting to create the right solution for the future of Bitcoin. I would like to see more honesty, more openness from the different minds and different media, more emotional maturity… The way this research project changes the world is if the people involved in the system actually understand the values on which Bitcoin was built. If we can achieve that kind of logical consistency, we can truly evolve this idea in the right direction.
Braun: Speaking of community, I read an article about how you lived in the “Crypto Castle”. So I understand that you were living with a lot of other people involved with Bitcoin?
Casserly: Living in the Crypto Castle was particularly interesting because every morning, regardless of when anyone would wake up or go to sleep, everyone is reading the news, everyone is talking about their projects, and everyone is working so insanely hard. This is true for San Francisco in general. It’s so productive and intellectually stimulating, and it’s so much fun. We would all be sitting upstairs having this high-level discussion about the decentralized prediction market the Augur team was building, while I’m deconstructing the invisible and visible techniques of high impact media. We’re all continually sharing minds, coding and laughing while sitting in a hot tub on our rooftop deck.
Braun: Wow, that definitely sounds nice!
Casserly: Living a life where we work as hard as we play and play as hard as we work is incredible. Life is work, work is play, and play is life. Being in the community at the Crypto Castle is such a positive experience. What was truly great about the Crypto Castle was the absence of negative influences. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Jeremy Gardner, the founder of the College Cryptocurrency Network, is like my brother. You meet some people and you think, “You are going to be my friend for life.” I think these positive relationships with groups of people like this fundamentally accelerate the evolution of society. Those relationships are worth more than all of the money you will ever make.
Braun: Do you have a single favorite “Bitcoin moment”? A point in your career, a conversation, an experience at the Crypto Castle, or anything else that comes to mind?
Casserly: One that hasn’t happened yet. There is so much tension in the community in such a positive way, and my favorite moment in Bitcoin is definitely one that hasn’t happened yet. We’re still in the early adopter stage, so I think the future has so many extraordinary moments ahead.
Braun: I agree with that! One thing I’m really interested in hearing about is your experience at CoinTelegraph. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Casserly: I was the second employee at ChangeTip originally. CoinTelegraph found me. I had a call with them and said, “Well, here’s why what you’re doing is a blog and not a business.” In a day, I essentially designed what has been the strategy of the company for the past two years. I outlined exactly what we needed to do to scale this, and they were blown away. They asked me what it would take for me to work with them. Ever since, it’s been an amazing experience.
I designed our business to be a holacracy, so instead of having a pyramid style business with the CEO at the top, then management and employees, we actually work in a series of circles. There is a team dedicated to management, a team dedicated to editorial, a team dedicated to sales, a team dedicated to art, and a team dedicated to web development. Within each of these teams, there’s no hierarchy. Everyone has different tasks to work toward the larger goal of their team, and all of the teams are communicating to accomplish the larger goal of the organization. This is what I love – there are no politics. Everyone works together to do the best work they can possibly do at the thing they’re the best at.
Since I’ve joined, we’ve added eight properties to our media group and our ad network, and CoinTelegraph has expanded to twelve countries globally, about to be fifteen. Viewership has absolutely skyrocketed. I’ve had some really interesting people approach us to give us money, but we haven’t taken any investments. We’ve been able to make the business profitable from ad sales, as well as from another really unique element of our business model. We do franchises for all of our local editorial offices, so every office we have in another country is owned by a person who licenses out our brand to start a media group. We have a different business model than a lot of other media groups I’ve heard of or spoken to, and we also have the largest ad network in Bitcoin. It’s been one of the most amazing experiences to build this media empire in the area that I’m most passionate about.
Braun: Would you say that’s your biggest contribution to the Bitcoin world?
Casserly: So far, but it’s not just me! It’s the contribution of every person that works day in and day out, passionately and tirelessly, because they love this. They love what Bitcoin is, they love blockchain technology, they love decentralized applications, they love privacy, security, freedom… I am so lucky to be surrounded by these amazing people. And truly, I’m far from done achieving! I’m always thinking three steps ahead and thinking about how I can do more, how we can build something bigger, how we can do something more extraordinary, and how we can bring more value to this community overall. I’m absolutely insatiable. It’s only just beginning.
Braun: There have been a lot of articles lately about women in Bitcoin. Some are saying there aren’t enough women involved, and then people fire back, calling those articles sexist for ignoring the contributions that women have made to the industry. Others are asking why gender should be relevant at all. Where do you stand on these controversies?
Casserly: I think there’s been a lot of media firestorm to sensationalize a pain point for readers. I speak with a lot of my journalists and say, “You guys can write about whatever you want, and I have no control over the editorial content, but please don’t sensationalize someone’s pain for a metric. We’re better than that.” In my opinion, it’s antithetical to the ethic of what it means to be a journalist and at the end of the day, sacrificing your character is never worth it.
I must say, my experience as a woman has been fundamentally different than what I’ve heard from others, because I don’t self-identify through my gender. There may be things encoded subconsciously in actions and interactions between people, but when I think about myself, my first thought would not be that I am valued as who I am because I am a woman. I feel like I always lead with my intellect. Yes, people make assumptions and try to categorize you, but I don’t think that has as much to do with gender as it has to do with the absence of emotional interactions people in logic-heavy industries are used to experiencing. Women tend to be emotionally minded, and this can throw people off or create a disconnect of knowledge. These fundamentally different frameworks for analysis can cause those who are programmed to think in a certain binary, black & white manner to judge others on the physical level, instead of attempting to understand them intellectually or emotionally. I tend to empathize with where these people are coming from. I’m always the first to try and understand what the assumptions of others may be and correct them before they experience them.
Actually, I have a story for you. I remember one of the first times I met someone in the Bitcoin world. After our interaction, he pulled me aside and told me that when he saw me, he thought, “Oh god, this girl must be a recruiter, because usually, when you see women in the technology industry, you make the assumption that they’re the bait to lure in developers”. He then said that when I opened my mouth and shared my mind, he was literally blown away. For him, it was a huge reality check. He said, “Wow, I can’t believe that I was so biased. And you showed me my own bias, because you broke that mold for me.”
Braun: For one last fun question, what was the first thing you ever bought with Bitcoin?
Casserly: Oh gosh… more altcoins? [laughs] Just kidding. The first thing I bought with Bitcoin was a plane ticket, and I will continue to fly into my dreams in the future!
– Emily Braun