Interview with an early adopter

Thursday 06 August 2015

SmokeTooMuch CPU-mined thousands of coins, chatted with Satoshi and helped guide the first wave of bitcoin enthusiasts. Here are his thoughts on what bitcoin was, and what it's become.

This two-part interview comes courtesy of Christoph Bergmann of Bitcoin.de, Germany's largest bitcoin exchange.

SmokeTooMuch CPU-mined large amounts of bitcoin with an ordinary computer. He has never attended a bitcoin conference and has never sought to become a bitcoin evangelist. His view of bitcoin is strongly political: he hopes bitcoin can break the power of the banks and enable people’s direct engagement in society. Today, he is disappointed that bitcoin’s success is measured by how many merchants are paid in dollars through BitPay. This is the portrait of a faceless man.

There are early adopters who give bitcoin a face. The Roger Vers and Andreas Antonopolouses of the world. They preach bitcoin, show up at bitcoin conferences, invest in bitcoin start-ups and give public interviews.

And then there are the early adopters without a face. Like SmokeTooMuch. He was the first German bitcoiner. He mined thousands of bitcoins and is still enthusiastic about the cryptocurrency. But he doesn’t preach bitcoin, doesn’t show up at conferences, has founded no start-ups and has never given an interview.

Cannabis

He's called SmokeTooMuch because, well...

You can find his history on bitcointalk. If you surf its very earliest pages, you will find his first post, back in December 2009: ‘Hi, yesterday I stumbled upon this great payment method. I read my way through many sites but now I have some questions that I couldn’t get answered.’ Later, he posts on the German subforum. Not often, but his posts are suffused with the authority of an early adopter. Once, when he writes that he wants to sell some bitcoins, someone asks if he wants to buy an island.

‘By using drugs I learned early on how repressive the supposedly “free” nations actually are.’

I wrote Smoke a message and asked for an interview. To my pleasure he answered. We exchanged messages for some months. Every message was encrypted; Smoke wants to maintain his privacy. No real name, no place, no age, no occupation, no face.

I asked him about his pseudonym. He answered with amusement that he was smoking cannabis regularly at the time. Smoking weed – or the ostracism and criminal activity this behaviour can entail – certainly shaped his ideology. He is still angry at a state that prohibits a pleasure that doesn’t do any harm to anybody. ‘By using drugs I learned early on how repressive the supposedly “free” nations actually are.’

Smoke is political. Very political. In his view, bitcoin is not about money, but about power, participation and freedom. Beside cannabis, file-sharing has shaped his ideology. He did, like so many others, download music, movies and software with KaZaA and eMule until the state once again interfered and forced those platforms to close. Smoke realized the internet was a battlefield, and he watched with fascination how the decentralised networks won the war. ‘As a teenager I was enthusiastic about how file-sharing moved from central servers to distributed networks and became resistant against censorship.’

Then 9/11 happened, and with it the Patriot Act, Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo. Smoke realized ‘what 9/11 and the media has done to society.’ He decided ‘that political progress was no longer possible through traditional means.’ He started to read up on technology that protected him from surveillance, like VPN, Tor, I2P and so on. ‘At this time I regularly Googled terms like “open source”, “decentralised”, “distributed”, “encrypted” and “anonymous”, hoping to find a piece of software that combined these principles into a wonderful gift for humanity.’

‘At this time we just started to create a market and learn what we could do with bitcoin.’

He also found… bitcoin. A few websites later he discovered bitcointalk, where the atmosphere was familial and Satoshi Nakamoto himself answered Smoke’s questions. Smoke felt he had found something big. ‘I was sure I had discovered a tool that enabled me, an information scientist with strong political views, to participate in social progress again.’ The possibilities seemed endless. ‘At this time we just started to create a market and learn what we could do with bitcoin. To be a part of this process was very satisfying.’ Bitcoin, a gift for humanity – and a gift for SmokeTooMuch.

Early miners had a large advantage: they were few and mining was easy. Smoke mined thousands of bitcoins with a single core of a Core2Quad Q9450 (bought for €69, courtesy of Google Shopping). Later, he used an ATI Radeon (no longer available), which he heavily overclocked until it broke. After that he stopped mining.

Altogether Smoke mined with this equipment ‘significantly more’, as he vaguely comments, than 10,000 bitcoins. For a while he owned one percent of all bitcoins in existence. In 2010, Smoke tried to sell 10,000 bitcoins for a total of $50. Nobody wanted to buy – which was, with hindsight, good for Smoke. ‘I was one of the ones who sold bitcoins and bought things with them when the price was less than a dollar. I don’t regret having done this. Someone had to get the ball rolling.’

However many bitcoins Smoke might still hold today, the cryptocurrency was a gift for him. It gave him financial independence, made paying for his IT studies easy, and gave him the freedom to decide what he should do and how much he would work. He has the freedom to spend more of his time on things that are more important than money and a career. What are these things? He doesn’t want to say. When he makes excuses for a long delay before answering, he always explains with ‘projects’, without going into details.

Stay tuned for the second part of this interview soon!


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