Bitcoin slowdown? All is pink and blue skies at Consensus 2022, Austin’s ‘SXSW of crypto’


“Kimbal, please share now your 9/11 story,” says the man on the main stage at Consensus 2022, CoinDesk’s crypto conference in Austin, June 9-12. The annual event was billed as the SXSW of crypto, which is confusing because it looked like SXSW 2022 was the SXSW of crypto. But unfortunately.

The speaker, author Rod Beckstrom, asks Kimbal Musk, younger brother of new Texas resident Elon, to describe how a real event — most important, at that — shaped his life in the Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs). Musk — founder of Big Green DAO and board member of SpaceX and Tesla — says he cooks for New York’s firefighters at Ground Zero. How this relates to this nebulous thing called the blockchain, I can’t explain.

It’s not the first thing I hear at the event to make me think – it would be “leave the flash to the girls with small tits,” a mustachioed lanyard wearer at the Hilton said into a video camera – but it is the first sentence that demonstrates the need for those gathered to invoke overwhelming moments to give credibility to what appears to the rest of the world as an industry-wide slowdown.

But if the shaky bitcoin and etherium prices, and the fragile ground for the formerly ascendant non-fungible token (NFT), shook investors and people in the industry, you wouldn’t know it inside the Austin Convention Center.

NFTs for sale in the 2022 Consensus Exhibit Center in Austin.

Chris O’Connell/MySA

Everyone I spoke with, from traders to educators to employees of industry-adjacent companies, only smiled when I mentioned the outside perception that crypto had seen better days.

“In previous bear markets, it wasn’t that exciting. Everyone was hurting on this one,” says Jacob Dent, an engineer at a crypto casino called “That one, I don’t even really feel it.”

Justin Kerber, an Austin resident who works for Mythical Games, says he recently asked his company’s CEO how a bear market affects their bottom line.

“The average person may be worried, but our investors are not,” he was told, which gave him confidence. “I think that says a lot because they’re spending a lot of money on it. What if they’re not worried and they’re confident about the future, right?”

Dent and Kerber wouldn’t be worried, at least not here inside the exhibit hall. Thousands of people enthusiastically discuss their crypto problems, pounding on laptops saying “brother. bro!” in the AirPods, and otherwise taking advantage of the very legitimacy of the event’s IRL, perceived or real.

That legitimacy is hammered home by the presence of real bigwigs, like Ghada Ijam of the Richmond Federal Reserve, Fidelity Investments CEO Abby Johnson, rapper Big Boi, and a host of professional athletes like Baron Davis and Spencer Dinwiddie.

“For the larger population at large who may not have crypto or are interested in crypto, I think [that’s] going to get a lot more people on board,” says Jess Betts of The Crypto, a company aiming to bring more women into the crypto fold.

Betts is encouraged by the more diverse and less male Consensus 2022 population, though he mentions that it is still largely white and male.

“It’s very focused on finance and technology, which are historically two sectors where women are excluded, and so women can be very intimidated coming to conferences like this,” she says. “So our education is for women only for that purpose, so they don’t feel as intimidated.”

Consensus 2022, held at the Austin Convention Center.

Consensus 2022, held at the Austin Convention Center.

Chris O’Connell/MySA

It’s easy to imagine why Betts feels this way. There are dozens of businesses with stalls, and many of them have changed their presence to attract passers-by, which gives off a teenager-like feel.

One booth has three vintage arcade consoles: Ms. Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat II and a Kiss pinball machine. I see claw machines, vending machines and popcorn machines.

I saw an NFT selfie booth and a water machine called FLOWATER, which had, among its seven ingredients, something called coconut carbon. It tasted like plain water, but my palate is simple.

These gadgets and gadgets were all meant to lure people in – mostly white guys, from what I observed – to talk to them about various crypto and blockchain issues.

And it was all meant to show attendees that crypto is alive and well, blockchain is mainstream, and there is nothing to worry about.

Outside the convention center, the perception is quite different. I stop for a coffee on Rainey Street, where many attendees had headed for lunch and beers after the panel. I saw a sign outside that said “WE ACCEPT NFTS/NICE FKN TIPS”. A photographer friend sits and rolls her eyes when I say what I write, while another client shouts “fuck crypto!”

There’s a dichotomy between what’s happening inside the convention center and what’s less than a mile away, and the divide between the groups still seems great.

A bartender from another part of the street stops and orders a shot of Fernet. Without being invited, she participates in the conference.

“How many people today are going to ask me if they can use Apple Pay?” she sighs.

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