Monkey see, monkey do: How rhesus macaques hold key to crypto adoption in Asia

Published August 30, 2018, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

Instead of looking inward to the tech community for ideas on how we can mainstream cryptocurrencies in Asia, we instead ought to look at rhesus macaques. Yes, rhesus macaques, the monkey species that ranges across much of the region. In one experiment, rhesus macaques were tasked with memorizing 240 object-reward associations, grouped into lists of 10. The rhesus macaques who were able to observe the testing of peers were able to learn faster than those who had to learn solely through trial-and-error. This experiment is an example of observational learning, and it occurs across the animal kingdom, particularly with tools: young chimpanzees could master how to use a T-bar to obtain food just by watching others, for example.

Observational learning is worth noting because it marks a stark contrast to how most cryptocurrency enthusiasts to date have developed their interest in the space. Most of us have taken an auto-didactic approach to cryptocurrency. After maybe hearing about it on the news or reading an article about it online, we run off on our own self-driven pursuit to learn more. We devour cryptocurrency news sites and and technical white papers. We participate in airdrops and online discussion boards. We join Telegram groups and small meet-ups. In short, we take an active stake in our own learning.

Self-learning works well for early adopters because we are already interested in the subject – our curiosity is what pushes us to learn more, even when the going gets tough. Unfortunately, this approach will not work for the rest of the world, the majority of whom have no deep fascination with cryptocurrencies. Every cryptocurrency enthusiast has an opinion on what it will take to reach this broader group, including everything from government regulation and market education to rebranding campaigns like “Got milk?”, but all these are examples of the cart pulling the horse. Before anything else, we need to give average consumers an opportunity to engage in social learning. Like the young chimpanzees who watched their peers use a T-bar to obtain food, they need to first see the utility of cryptocurrencies. They need to see it as a tool, as a resource.

Opportunities to observe others obtain cryptocurrency are few and far between. The majority of transactions occur online on exchanges, and in the rare instances that a buyer and a seller meet to make a transaction, the people in their vicinity would likely have no idea what they are doing. The traders would be on their smart phones – just like everyone else.

Fortunately, some cryptocurrency companies and organizations are incorporating observational learning into their product marketing, sometimes even in the online space. Popular referral programs arguably create a form of observational learning. On Coinbase, for example, you can send out invitations to friends to sign-up to their exchange via email. The demonstration of Coinbase’s utility is both implicit (i.e. the referer was suitably satisfied with the value he got from the exchange that he was willing to risk his reputation with a recommendation) as well as explicit (i.e. the fine print states that both parties will be given USD$10 if the new user makes a trade over $100 within three months). Although these referral sign-ups occur online, this is observational learning all the same – you just happen to be separated by a screen.

The most powerful form of observational learning in the cryptocurrency space will originate offline, but conclude online. Indonesia’s Pundi X, which raised USD$35 million in a public token sale earlier this year, will be providing one such example next month: The company will be distributing 30,000 Pundi XPASS cards to the expected 30,000 festival-goers at Ultra Taiwan 2018, who can top them up with Ultra Coin, the token for the event.

This promotion is simple but smart. Festival-goers will get a kick of being able to use the cards to be able to pay for food or merchandise at the 35 vendors who have a Pundi XPOS device. Many of them will post photos of the Pundi XPASS, the Pundi XPOS, or even what they bought on social media.

Once they do, their online friends and followers will see that they are deriving utility from Pundi X’s tech: They were able to buy real-world items with the company’s cryptocurrency-enabled payment card. Since mainstream consumers tend to be risk-averse (and also have a healthy fear of missing out – or FOMO, as millenials say), many will find comfort in this social validation and in turn adopt the tech sooner rather than later.

This may seem like an oversimplification of how to appeal to the mainstream consumers, but you have to remember that people are social creatures. Just like our peers in the animal kingdom, we can be influenced by the simple act of watching someone do something new. In this view, an oft-repeated phrase about cryptocurrency takes on new meaning: Is cryptocurrency ready for the world stage? (Gracy Fernandez)