Bitcoin, Musk
We just have to watch what Musk posts next Image Credit: Jose L. Barros/Gulf News

The age of living alone couldn’t have been complete without the two things that will help to define the times to come — Clubhouse and Bitcoin. We can add Elon Musk to the mix for some flavour.

Since the coronavirus hit an unsuspecting world more than a year ago, we have been increasingly growing apart. The Covid-19 prevention measures made sure that we stayed away from others. We have been working from home for most of 2020 and the first two months of 2021. We hop online. We meet online — Zoom has become a social habit.

We pay for everything online — cashless transaction — as we are told paper money could transmit the virus. Most painfully though, we are unable to visit loved ones but online. We video call or send voice notes via WhatsApp. That includes wedding and birthdays. We mingle socially now by sending countless emojis, memes and images of flowers.

Many people, myself included, are yet to master the art of zooming. I log in to the app when the other party has left. It is not complicated. The invitations sometimes seem so formal. And when there are too many people on the call, it can get disorderly and loud as several people would speak at the same time.

A brand new platform

Here’s where Clubhouse saw an opening and sneaked in. Unlike Zoom, it is audio only, so you don’t have to put on your best clothes for the meeting and wear a make-up. You can jump in, or leave, anytime. And unlike Twitter or Facebook, it is not moderated. The person who organised the invite would give the guests the permission to speak but ultimately, they say whatever they want.

Clubhouse was launched in April 2020, at the height of the pandemic by, who else, two techies from Silicon Valley. Today, the app has millions of registered users. It is by invitation only. Thus, when it is open for all as expected sometime soon, the number of users will certainly swell.

Clubhouse may not replace private or friendly online calls, but it will definitely have a real chance to dominate this business in larger meetings. A media report the other day described it as ‘a town hall meeting’: the host and the speakers are discussing a topic on the stage and you are only an audience member (in this case, a listener) who would be allowed to participate at the chairperson’s discretion.

The app has become in the past two weeks a hit. You cannot escape it. You must have gotten several invitations then a load of notification of ‘town hall meeting’ that you may want to join. Friends who like it told me the app feels lively, fresh and give them the chance to discuss any topic — nothing is off limit. However, other reviews raised some concerns about online harassment, misinformation and privacy issues on the platform.

Enter Elon Musk

Now, here is the twist. Clubhouse remained obscure to most for months, until someone named Elon Musk (my guess you must have heard of him!) announced he was joining it. The rest of us followed. It has become so popular I read somewhere that e-Bay is selling invitations to join for $100!

Musk, the Tesla guy, some sort of enigma to me, has become so influential in the past few years that he can sway the public opinion, especially within the younger generation, with a single tweet. He would mention something in his Twitter account and that thing would become an instant hit, be it a product, a lifestyle or a currency — a cryptocurrency.

At the beginning of this month, Bitcoin was trading at the already inflated price of $30,000. On February 8, Musk announced that his company electrical car company, Tesla, was buying $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin. He tweeted few days later that Bitcoin was a “less dumb form of liquidity than cash”. Today, one bitcoin is worth $56,000, almost double its price at the end of January.

Bitcoin vs traditional currencies

The Musk effect? Yes. But not entirely. Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies, may not replace traditional currencies, like the dollar, anytime soon, but they are gaining popularity. The chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley, Ruchir Sharma, published a report titled ‘Why Crypto Is Coming Out of the Shadows’ on the giant investment bank’s website few days ago. He says: “Despite the jitters natural in a global pandemic, cryptocurrencies are rapidly gaining popular support as alternatives to gold (a store of value) and the dollar (as a means of payment).”

The younger generation, the same age group of those on Clubhouse, of the cult-like followers of Musk, believes “the open-source software behind Bitcoin makes it more transparent, transferable and trustworthy than paper money printed by governments,” Sharma says.

As the year 2020, which was defined by the pandemic and the meteoric rise of online landmarks such as Zoom, Netflix and Amazon as the new essentials of life, the year 2021, may take that trend another level. Parliaments to meet on Clubhouse? Quite likely. College classes too. Absolutely. Buying your car or furniture by with Bitcoin, or bits of it? Yes.

The year is young; we are still in February, aren’t we? Other trends will soon appear in the notification screen. We just have to watch what Musk posts next.