Post: “Crypto Is Like the Eiffel Tower”: Reflections on Paris Blockchain Week 2022

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Paris Blockchain Week focused on NFTs, the multi-chain future, preparing for mass adoption, and more.

Paris Blockchain Week Reviewed

This week, a few thousand crypto geeks, industry heads, and degens gathered in Paris to shill their projects, network with friends they knew from Twitter and Telegram, and talk about the blockchain industry’s progress so far. They were in town for Paris Blockchain Week, the latest big in-person meet-up in the crypto calendar. The central meeting point for the event was the grandiose Palais Brongniart in the II arrondissement, though a big part of the week was the busy schedule of side events hosted by various crypto-native companies and projects. The day proceedings saw talks from crypto mainstays like Changpeng “CZ” Zhao and Brad Garlinghouse. The soirées took advantage of Paris’ most famous landmarks and the recent boom in digital assets to woo guests with stunning views and never-ending flows of complimentary champagne. 

Contrary to the much bigger Bitcoin conference that happened one week prior, Paris Blockchain Week was devoid of the tacky behavior and silly antics crypto is sometimes known for. There was no Transformers-style bull outside the entrance. There were no outlandish whales ripping up euro bills. And there was no evidence of the one-chain tunnel vision mentality that holds the Bitcoin community back. 

Instead, the Paris Blockchain Week crowd seemed sold on, or at least open to, the idea of a multi-chain future. On the opening day dedicated to NFTs, speakers discussed their various endeavors in the space, most of which leveraged crypto’s biggest NFT network, Ethereum. Later in the week, Polkadot builders casually talked about how there was precious little doubt that we were heading toward a cross-chain world. And you couldn’t move for Algorand branding (the Layer 1 network was one of the event’s main sponsors). 

Unlike Bitcoin 2022 and other blockchain-specific events like Solana Breakpoint and Avalanche Summit, there was less of a focus on supposedly-big-but-mostly-underwhelming announcements. The biggest news was CZ’s reveal that Binance had partnered with Station F to invest €100 million in French Web3 startups, saying that “France is uniquely positioned to be the leader of this industry in Europe” because the government is progressive when it comes to blockchain adoption. Another highlight was an appearance from Ukraine-born Celsius founder Alex Mashinsky, who opened his talk by applauding the crypto community for sending millions of dollars to Ukraine to help fund its war efforts (all told, donations across various crypto-related initiatives total over $150 million). On a similar tip to CZ, KUNA’s Michael Chobanian discussed the AidForUkraine campaign his firm has launched with FTX, Everstake, and Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation and made a convincing case that the country was now the world’s most crypto-friendly nation. Other talks focused on the hurdles the industry faces, from changing the mainstream perception of NFTs to creating payment solutions that aren’t completely unusable. 

A Brighter Future?

While the daytime talks are where people come to learn at conferences, the parties provide behind-the-scenes industry insights once everyone is sufficiently loaded up on free alcohol. At times, the encounters at these parties can feel disheartening. We swerved one NFT auction event because the cocktail dress code sounded pretentious and at odds with the vision that Satoshi Nakamoto laid out for crypto (that’s a common theme across many crypto parties). At those we did hop along to, at least one team member of a Layer 1 project we spoke to was unable to coherently explain what their blockchain does and why an equivalent like Ethereum can’t do it better, in a more decentralized way. A Polkadot fan whose project has a parachain slot made valid criticisms about Ethereum DeFi but then outed themselves as an ignorant maxi by suggesting that Acala, Polkadot’s DeFi hub, was the only DeFi worth using. Someone who works at a major exchange I won’t name here essentially admitted to front-running asset listings. Another launchpad shill brazenly explained how his team gets influencers with big followings to advertise their tokens so that they can dupe retail into buying their trash. 

A host at the best event we attended, a private party on a boat docked next to the Eiffel Tower, welcomed guests with a French history lesson. He explained that the location they had picked was fitting because the Eiffel Tower was seen as an eyesore when it was first erected. Crypto suffers from similar criticisms today, he said. Point being, the Eiffel Tower has become a French national treasure, visited by millions of people every year. If we’re right on all of this, crypto could have a similar journey toward public acceptance (I thought it was a bizarre comparison too, but you get his point). 

At the same party, on a smaller open-top boat hired to whisk guests along the Seine, I got talking with someone who’s been working in the space since punting on ICOs was a more popular form of gambling than minting PFP NFTs. With the sound of a piano drifting in the background and the Eiffel Tower’s sparkling lights glimmering in the water, she asked what I was looking forward to about the coming yearsbesides the possibility of financial freedom. 

That was when it struck me: whether we’ve been here a while or entered the space off the back of last year’s market mania, pretty much every cryptocurrency advocate on the planet today agrees that we’re nowhere near the full vision for a decentralized world yet. And while there are still challenges to overcome and plenty of reasons to be skeptical or cringe at certain aspects of this space, everyone is convinced that blockchain technology will bring us to a brighter future. To ensure we get there, events like Paris Blockchain Week are vital for the industry to converge and work out how to make it happen. 

Disclosure: At the time of writing, the author of this piece owned ETH and several other cryptocurrencies. 

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