The vote wasn’t close. In early June, 62 of the 84 members of El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly – a whopping 74% – voted to make bitcoin official legal tender. “History!” tweeted Nayib Bukele, the bitcoin-happy president of El Salvador. He’s not wrong. The nation’s stunning embrace of crypto, regardless of what happens next, is arguably the most influential event in bitcoin’s history.
Look closer. This didn’t happen because El Salvador farmers are hoping their Blockfolio balances will go “to the moon.” This wasn’t fueled by dreams of a BTC index fund. This wasn’t about price speculation. In a nation with a 70% cash economy, villagers and farmers are actually using bitcoin, sending small amounts of satoshis (or “sats”) to buy fruits and vegetables, embracing the original peer-to-peer vision of bitcoin that would make the actual Satoshi smile.
For this, we can thank the Strike app, from Jack Mallers, which makes it fast and cheap and easy to send and receive tiny amounts of bitcoin. Now look even closer. Strike, in turn, is powered by the Lightning Network, which crypto-geeks know as the “layer 2” protocol that basically settles transactions “off-chain,” through a growing network of user-hosted channels and nodes, that exponentially cuts down the time and fees to send bitcoin.
Mallers always knew he’d use Lightning to fuel Strike. “It was painfully obvious,” Mallers tells me, calling Lightning’s layer 2 solution “one of the more impressive advancements in money as a technology in human history.”
Lightning is the engine that’s driving this burst of bitcoin adoption. And you could make a good case that the Lightning Network is the most important project for the most important asset in all of blockchain. Yet the actual team that’s building Lightning, led by CEO and co-founder Elizabeth Stark, is almost oddly off the radar. Lightning even somehow feels … underrated? After early spurts of publicity in 2017 and 2018 (such as Leigh Cuen’s Bitcoin’s Warrior Queen profile for CoinDesk, or the Lightning Torch experiment of 2019), Stark has generally avoided the press, burying herself in the work.
This could be the perfect moment for Lightning to re-enter center stage. The recent discourse of Bitcoin, as measured by headlines or crypto twitter, feels like a never-ending torrent of price, price, price, Elon Musk, price, China, price, price, Elon Musk. The Lightning Network, in a sense, is the antidote to all that speculation frenzy. Lightning is about bitcoin being used, not just gobbled up by investors, and not just as digital gold. “The idea that it’s merely a digital rock fails to tap into the very nature of what bitcoin can do,” says Stark. “Bitcoin is programmable money, and Lightning can help scale it to billions of people across the world.”
And now it’s actually starting to…