Mind-Bending Narrative Shifts in 2019

This post is part of CoinDesk’s 2019 Year in Review, a collection of 100 op-eds, interviews and takes on the state of blockchain and the world. Nathaniel Whittemore is an independent strategy and communications consultant for leading crypto companies as well as the curator of Long Reads Sunday and host of the Crypto Daily 3@3 video podcast.

When it comes to crypto, narrative shifts represent shifts in mindshare.

Take, for example, the ethereum narrative between the beginning of 2018 and the end of that same year. That year kicked off in the middle of ICO mania. Tokenize the world! Tokenize everything! The rallying cry rang out. For a while, it looks like the markets believed it too.

By the end of the year, no one wanted to be caught dead near a “tech crypto” token project. No, by the time 2019 kicked off, it was all about decentralized finance – a brave new world of permissionless, programmable money.

For the cynical, this type of narrative shift can suggest a certain insincerity of purpose. I believe something different.

Narratives are the way we make sense of the world happening around us and place ourselves in it. They shift as we take in more information and better figure out what matters to us as individuals and as an industry.

Narratives are also a battleground. Boosters of ideas scrap to convince the limited attention, talent and capital available to see the world as they do, in a way that benefits their area of focus. This is true in all industries, but particularly in such a young, high-stakes space like crypto.

For that reason, trying to understand what narratives dominate any given period is a way of understanding where the attention of the industry was focused during that time.

Peak narrative

With that lens, 2019 has a number of contenders for the title of “Most Important Narrative.”

DeFi, mentioned above, has to be considered, given how much it became the mainstream focus of the ethereum community, led by projects like MakerDAO and…

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