In our third edition of 21 Questions By Decentralize Today, we feature Alex Gladstein, Chief Strategy Officer of Human Rights Foundation. Alex is an active voice in promoting sovereignty, privacy, and a champion in the fight against tyrannical organizations and governments. He burst into the Bitcoin scene with his thought-provoking article published in TIME Magazine called "Why Bitcoin Matters For Freedom." The viral piece has since been the centerpiece of his advocacy for using technologies like Bitcoin to help in the fight for privacy, freedom, and sovereignty around the world.
Let's get to know a little bit more about the man behind the mission in this latest edition of 21 Questions!
Decentralize.Today: If you could choose three words to describe yourself, what would they be and why?
Alex Gladstein: This is four, but: Fighting the Surveillance State. Regardless of what kind of country you live in, you need to focus on protecting your privacy. Or eventually, you'll live in a Big Brother society where you won't have any freedom left.
DT: How did you discover Bitcoin/crypto?
Alex: The first time it really popped on my radar was when I read the 2014 New York Times Bitcoin article by Marc Andreessen. Which still holds up as one of the best articles about Bitcoin, to date. I had friends in crypto in the Bay Area in those days, too, but the penny didn't actually drop for me until 2016 when Bill Tai mentioned the idea of getting Bitfury together with the Human Rights Foundation. We did that a few months later at the Oslo Freedom Forum with some Bitcoin info sessions for human rights activists, and my interest grew from there.
DT: How did you start in your current profession?
Alex: I actually began as an intern at the Human Rights Foundation in 2007. My first job was to put together DVDs and audiobooks that my Latin American colleagues could bring into communist Cuba to disseminate to the country's nascent underground digital library network. I was immediately hooked by the idea of challenging dictatorship with technology and joined full-time in 2008 and have been working for HRF ever since.
DT: How would you describe what you do to a 5 year old?
Alex: My job is to help challenge the bullies of the world. Bullies use force and violence to get what they want. Just like dictators. We hope for a world with no bullies.
DT: What was your first ever job (even as a kid)?
Alex: As a kid I did some computer repair work, but my first full time job was working in retail at a hardware store.
DT: Who is your biggest inspiration when it comes to work/business?
Alex: Great question. Probably the dozens of amazing dissidents and human rights activists I've met through my work at HRF. Yeonmi Park, Manal al-Sharif, Evan Mawarire, Srdja Popovic, Marina Nemat, and Vladimir Kara Murza come to mind as just a few examples of many.
DT: What's the best life and work advice you've ever been given?
Alex: Best life advice: Follow your heart. Best work advice: Don't toil for years in an industry that you don't passionately enjoy. If you're watching the clock, and waiting for the end of the day, or dreading going to the office, then you should try to do something else.
DT: Your favorite superhero or fictional character, and why?
Alex: I have many. But Tony Stark and Tyrion Lannister are probably up there as some of my favorites. Tony because Iron Man idealistically tries to use technology to save the planet. Tyrion because he realizes his limits and plays to his strengths with the talents of his mind.
DT: What were you like as a student?
Alex: I was a good student but easily bored. I ended up playing a lot of video games. But I don't regret that at all. All those hours of Counter-Strike and Final Fantasy XI were wonderfully interactive. It sounds nerdy but I made some great friends in those games, some of whom I never even met in real life.
DT: You have the power to solve one world problem forever. Which one would you choose?
Alex: An easy and cheap cure for cancer.
DT: If you could live anywhere, where would you go and why?
Alex: I'm perfectly happy living in the Bay Area. California is just so beautiful with such great access to nature.
DT: How are you with money? Stingy? Generous? Do you bargain? Tip big?
Alex: I'd say average.
DT: Who are your real life heroes?
Alex: Going back to a previous answer, I'm lucky because I get to work with them: the human rights activists of the world who risk their livelihoods and lives for a better tomorrow.
DT: What does your family think of Bitcoin / crypto?
Alex: My brother is totally into Bitcoin. My wife as well. The rest of my family is pretty interested. So generally, they think of Bitcoin in positive and curious terms.
DT: What was the last book you read that made you go "wow that was great"?
Alex: In the past couple of years I've read Sapiens, The Stand, and Snowcrash. They are all great. I highly recommend that everyone read all three.
DT: What grinds your gears or is your pet peeve?
Alex: Bureaucratic time-wasting. Either in line at a store, or waiting on the phone, or needing to jump through a million hoops to get something simple done.
DT: Do you have an "I lost my private keys" story? If not, what's your craziest story related to Bitcoin/crypto?
Alex: Thankfully, I don't have a story like that. I'd say the reaction I got from my TIME Magazine article on Why Bitcoin Matters for Freedom a year ago was the most surprising thing that's happened to me in this space – the piece went viral and as a result I started to meet so many fascinating people and so many doors opened. It's still hard to believe.
DT: Where do you see Bitcoin/crypto in ten years?
Alex: Bitcoin will be a much bigger deal in 10 years. Hopefully, it will be a much better tool of freedom, much more usable, and much more private. I think the Chinese state cryptocurrency will be globally huge and many other nations will likely have launched their own surveillance stablecoins. Libra could be huge, but it looks like regulators will kill it.
DT: What's your go-to form of entertainment or pastime? What do you do for fun?
Alex: Snowboarding is my favorite pastime. I also love seeing live music – in particular, I'll try to see great bands like Radiohead, Phish, Nine Inch Nails, Wilco, and My Morning Jacket whenever I can. And I love watching the NFL and playing fantasy football.
DT: Describe your dream project if money was no object?
Alex: Creating more world-class resources for human rights activists and dissidents. Especially with regard to digital security and financial privacy.
DT: You have one thing to say to your 18 year old self. What would it be?
Alex: That girl that you just met. You should definitely marry her. It will be the best decision of your lifetime!
About Alex Gladstein
Alex Gladstein is Chief Strategy Officer at the Human Rights Foundation. He has also served as Vice President of Strategy for the Oslo Freedom Forum since its inception in 2009. In his work, Alex has connected hundreds of dissidents and civil society groups with business leaders, technologists, journalists, philanthropists, policymakers, and artists to promote free and open societies. Alex's writing and views on human rights and technology have appeared in media outlets across the world, including The Atlantic, BBC, CNN, Fast Company, The Guardian, Monocle, NowThis, NPR, Quartz, TIME, WIRED, The New Republic, and The Wall Street Journal. He has spoken at universities ranging from MIT to Stanford, presented at the European Parliament, and participated in Singularity University events worldwide from Berlin to Johannesburg. He has also spoken at a range of blockchain and cryptocurrency events about why bitcoin matters for freedom. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
You can see all his works, including published articles, interviews, videos, and podcasts on his Singularity University faculty profile page.