‘Ripples across the blockchain space’: cryptocurrency at Oxy

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Blockchain @ Oxy meeting inside Fowler Hall at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 2, 2023. Luka Jackson/The Occidental

Rebels, anarchist-types and charlatans all circle the world of cryptocurrency, drawn by “to the moon” energy and “money-hype,” according to Tzu Kit Chan (senior). Because of its decentralized nature, some see the technology as a tool to rebuild society; because of financial success stories, others see it as a way to get rich quick, he said. The discourse around blockchain and cryptocurrency have become muddled by competing and coexisting narratives, according to Chan.

Chan is a director at Occidental’s Blyth Fund, and his interest in emerging technologies as well as finances and investment lead him to Blockchain @ Oxy, a club dedicated to blockchain technology.

For his part, Chan owns no cryptocurrency and said he would not consider himself one of those rebels. He said he just wants to understand the meaning and consequences of one of the most talked about technologies today.

“I’m just curious,” Chan said. “And I wish more people were in a position where they’re just staying curious about how things work in the world.”

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Tzu Kit Chan (senior), member of Blockchain @ Oxy, outside the Johnson Student Center at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 1, 2023. Luka Jackson/The Occidental

Adrian Leong (senior), the founder and president of the club, said he first heard about cryptocurrency from a friend in high school. Leong joined his friend’s blockchain-based start-up company, and at Occidental he started Blockchain @ Oxy to create a fun and safe space for students to learn about the blockchain.

Blockchain @ Oxy, which meets Thursdays at 6 p.m. in Fowler 201, currently has over 40 members on its Discord. Last semester, the club went to a blockchain conference at the University of Southern California.

“We got a lot of exposure to the current Web 3.0 space, and the blockchain space in LA,” Leong said. “I was able to give my club members a lot of ins and knowledge on what’s currently happening.”

Rather than hopping onto the crypto bandwagon for financial gain, Leong said, he was more interested in the technological side of it, which is also the primary focus of the club.

“I am a firm believer [in] the technology behind it,” Leong said. “It’s going to be the future essentially.”

According to Leong, blockchain is a self-verifying digital database, where data is not stored on a server unlike other “big tech” companies. Cryptocurrency is a digitized medium of exchange that operates in the blockchain space, while blockchain serves as a digitized ledger, Leong said. All exchanges on the blockchain are dealt with using cryptocurrency.

As opposed to “Web 2.0,” which includes Instagram, Facebook, Google and other big technology companies, in blockchain technology, or “Web 3.0,” users own everything they produce and can decide what to do with that data, Leong said. According to Chan and Leong, the blockchain represents a next step towards freedom in the digital age.

“The whole philosophy behind blockchain technology is the democratization of financial technology,” Leong said. “It’s about digital ownership.”

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Adrian Leong (senior), member of Blockchain @ Oxy, at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 2, 2023. Luka Jackson/The Occidental

Despite this philosophy, there are also controversies associated with cryptocurrency and the blockchain. To some people at Occidental, such as math professor Don Lawrence, the technology has many negative aspects.

“Crypto mining takes a significant percentage of the world’s energy output and therefore is a significant contributor to global warming in the long run,” Lawrence said.

Nelson Dresser (senior) agrees with Lawrence on the crypto debate. Dresser said he believes that cryptocurrency scams people and wastes energy without providing any value.

“They’re pretending to be something useful and using that facade to facilitate waste,” Dresser said.

Because the ledger is decentralized, there is no way to legally trace it, which according to Lawrence, enables illegal behavior. The fact that crypto goes beyond government boundaries, which is the root of these concerns, is also the reason it is seen as the democratization of financial technology, according to Leong.

Dresser said he does not see crypto as free from the gaze of Big Brother, though proponents often consider this to be one of its pros.

“It’s not independent of financial institutions, it is just tied to new ones that are unregulated,” Dresser said.

Jerry Wu (senior), a member of Blockchain @ Oxy, said he originally got into cryptocurrency to make money but has realized that financial gain should not be a motivation for learning about the blockchain space.

“I got in touch with crypto, and found some ways that I can make money, but then realized it was a scam, so I lost some money,” Wu said. “It’s a place where you shouldn’t be greedy, but also be patient since it’s a very new technology.”

Mostly, Wu said, he is excited to see where the technology will go.

“If I could be the one to ride this wave, like the people did before the World Wide Web, that would be amazing,” Wu said.

Contact Sebastian Lechner at slechner@oxy.edu.

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