Millennial youtubers, memes geeks or young semi-anarchist traders: not all cryptocurrency users are alike. The rise of bitcoin between October and April has widened the circle of followers of the genre beyond the precursors. Technology is also participating in this expansion, the proliferation of exchange platforms has put thousands of “these cryptos” within reach of smartphones, listed and accessible 24/7, sometimes without commission on transactions.
Cryptocurrency enthusiasts were 6 million worldwide in mid-2017, there were more than 100 million last fall. They are men in 95% of cases, with an average age of 35, employees, according to a study carried out by the exchange platform Binance, the largest in the United States, carried out in the fall of 2020 in 178 countries. . More interestingly, nearly 15% are said to be “native crypto”, users born in the era of cryptocurrencies.
Among these young followers, we find both more or less lucid stock marketers and participants in a new finance, decentralized and disconnected from the traditional banking system. These two tribes use common tools but with radically different philosophies.
In the crypto galaxy, there is the gamer camp. The camp of fans of “shitcoins”, that is to say of poor quality cryptocurrencies. These digital projects do not seek to solve a particular problem (for example, increase the number of transactions per second) and do not rely on innovative technology. The sole objective of the promoters of these shitcoins: to initiate an increase in the price and sell what they hold in these cryptos when a large number of users start wanting to buy them.
This kind of project attracts two types of profile, mostly under 30 years old, details Yann Darwin, a French investor who is interested in this phenomenon: “A minority of the amateurs of shitcoins are complete beginners, most often arrived after the hype surrounding cryptos and looking for a way to make easy money; they are generally quite naive. ”
Naivety is not appropriate for the other sub-group described by Yann Darwin, who himself launched a parody shitcoin, jeankevincoin, to denounce the faults of this small world, particularly in France: “Those are aware that this is just an improved airplane game or Ponzi scheme. They understand that the game is to buy as early as possible, participate in the promotion of projects and withdraw once the course has taken off. ” A Ponzi scheme is a financial scam made world famous by Bernard Madoff, in which the capital brought in by new customers is used to pay older ones.
“The Lambo or the RSA”
This second type of participant knows that investing in such projects is extremely risky, continues our interlocutor, “but they saw that when this kind of manipulation works, the value of a shitcoin can be multiplied by 100, 200 or 500 They invest small amounts, tens or hundreds of euros and hope to hit the jackpot. “
This dream is maintained by the testimonies of amazing earnings posted on discussion forums dedicated to cryptos and more particularly to shitcoins. “Very often, this kind of investor replay his winnings immediately, hoping to win again, like at the casino, without having a well-established or solid method,” concludes Yann Darwin, who further notes that these players are ready to try their luck , to play quits or double, aware that the result can be summed up in “the Lambo or the RSA”. That is to say, earn enough to pay for the emblem of fortunes in cryptos, a Lamborghini, or, at worst, to rely on the social security net of the French State, the income of active solidarity, which ensures a minimum resources for unemployed people.
Another web subculture
Two rooms, two atmospheres: among young crypto enthusiasts, there are also followers of decentralized finance, who also use cryptocurrencies with the very serious ambition of creating a new financial system, different from traditional banks and supervisors. This is what sociologist Laurence Allard calls “subsistence finance”: “New technologies make it possible to create their own means of existence. It is no longer a question of making the money earned in a traditional activity grow, but of creating and cultivating your own capital. ” This lesser-known cryptocurrency space is DeFi, for “decentralized finance”, decentralized finance.
These arrived in the early days of the crypto world through the video game world: they had sufficiently powerful computers.
We are talking about financial markets, largely automated loan or insurance platforms, which have given birth to a new layer of financial services. Opportunities for innovative loans have emerged, such as farming, which consists of making liquidity available to other investors in return for rewards and without the intervention of an intermediary. From around $ 1 billion in assets in spring 2020, DeFi hit a new high in May, at $ 86 billion, according to figures from DeFi Pulse, a statistics site on this emerging finance.
Got to cryptos through video games
These opportunities to “become your own bank from scratch attract more tech-savvy users who have mastery of networks and securing them; they sometimes arrived in the early days of the crypto world through that of video games because they had sufficiently powerful computers, ”continues the French researcher, specializing in new technologies.
To integrate this subculture, “the input interface is less technical than community. It’s a world open to all those who are interested in it, you just have to learn the codes. We are seeing an increase in skills towards areas that were previously reserved, ”explains Laurence Allard, lecturer at the University of Lille 3.
DeFi participants often form through YouTube channels, webinars, sites or specialized Telegram channels. With a communication described as digital native, using massively emojis, memes and lexicons specialized by community. “Everyone has their own grammar, their own style, their own references,” said the sociologist. A bit like “IRL”: each youngster has his own crypto-tribe.
Do you speak Crypto?
For “You Only Live Once” – you only live once: the will to take advantage of the moment, to seize opportunities immediately.
For “Fear of Missing Out” – a form of social anxiety that involves being afraid of missing out on an opportunity.
For “Fear, uncertainty, doubt”, the fear, uncertainty and doubt arising from the spread of false rumors.
Digital tokens without value, which do not solve any technological problems and whose prices are often manipulated.
Promote a cryptocurrency.
Reference to the English verb “to hold”, which means “to hold, to keep”. Willingness to keep cryptos and never sell.
The moon. Crypto that goes up a lot is described as going all the way to the moon.
For “Obsessive cryptocurrency disorder”, behavioral disorder that prompts you to constantly consult your cryptocurrency portfolio.
Some shitcoin enthusiasts call themselves this, aware that they are only copying the behavior of other users.
When the price of a crypto suddenly drops as it goes up.
Bitcoin supporter convinced that it will be the only currency in the future and that it will solve many problems in the universe.
For “Do Your Own Research”, that is, “do your own research”, rather than blindly following advice read on discussion forums.
“Before 25, our decisions are more impulsive”
What psychological factors drive us to make impulsive and not always rational decisions on trading platforms? What role does the age of users play? Time asked Sébastien Urben, from the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry University Service, and Doctor Line Guillod, co-responsible for the DEPART center dedicated to adolescent health.
How does the age of people who participate in trading impact their business?
Sébastien Urben: The prefrontal cortex, the area in front of the brain, develops until around the age of 25. This structure allows us to control our emotions, our impulsivity, but also helps us to make the best decisions while taking into account the risks. Also, adolescents and young adults are potentially not as well equipped to take into account these different elements necessary for decision-making involving a risk. In addition, one of the specificities of virtual currency trading is the feeling of belonging to a community, a “club” which constantly exchanges on social networks about cryptocurrencies. However, during adolescence, identity and autonomy are important processes. From this perspective, the role of peers is crucial during this period of development.
What regions of the brain are activated by the solicitations, especially the continuous notifications, of online trading?
SB: The reward circuits, particularly involving the limbic structures, are probably involved. In addition, dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is secreted in the brain, which is a source of pleasure for the individual.
You could compare this type of trading to any casino gambling or PMU gambling. How is it similar, how is it different?
SB: There are indeed similarities. One of the common underlying processes is some financial risk taking with the aim of obtaining immediate gain. One of the differences that seem important to me is the virtual side compared to the physical side (slot machine, etc.) which plays an important role in my opinion. This dematerialization can probably give a feeling of “loss of value of money” which can potentially lead young people to take greater risk.
When should cryptocurrency traders stop?
SB: When the expense becomes greater than what was originally planned, when the investment in time is greater and greater, when we can observe a lack of interest in other activities, the situation becomes worrying.
LG: This meets the criteria related to games of chance and money: the desire to constantly reinvest money to “recover”, concerns centered on cryptocurrency, borrowing money from relatives to continue to invest, anxiety-depressive symptoms, etc.
What advice should be given to parents whose children or relatives are involved in this trading to the point of arousing a form of suspicion of addiction?
LG: Do not be alone with your worries as a parent, be able to talk to your child and call in a professional, that is to say, organize an interview for the young person, or already for the parents if the teenager is resistant. Set limits, especially by reducing access to money.
Interview by Célia Héron