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Young Koreans suffer ‘Bitcoin blues’ in smashed get-rich-quick dream
  • By Marian Chu
  • Published 2018.02.01 10:38
  • Updated 2018.02.01 17:55
  • comments 0

“One of the senior managers at my company invested 100 million won ($93,545) into Bitcoin and quit his job after making 20 billion won from it,” says an employee at an investment firm requesting anonymity. “I didn’t get to see him in person, but he’s a legend here.”

The 28-year-old, known by just his surname of Kim, is only one of many who witnessed or heard about people attaining instant riches. Tales of massive successes are far and few in between, but enough is circulating both online and offline to reel in younger generations eager to get rich quick through virtual currencies.

Many younger Koreans are jumping on the bandwagon of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies as a means of making a quick fortune, but most experience depressive symptoms in the process.

The so-called 2030 generation -- Koreans in their 20s and 30s -- are witnessing a new risk-and-reward model with cryptocurrencies: a lucky few are getting massive payoffs by rolling a virtual die. Compounding the problem is the bleak reality that hard work does not always lead to corresponding financial rewards.

Virtual currencies began with Bitcoin in 2009 and had expanded to more than 1,000 types of cryptocurrencies, as of the last year-end. They have captivated the minds of the 2030 generation, as a last -- and sometimes a first -- resort to changing their lives.

According to statistics, about 60 percent of Bithumb investors were in their 20s and 30s. In a survey in December, more than 30 percent of job seekers said they were investing in virtual coins to pay off their expenses.

But the flurry of investment in various virtual currencies is now reportedly causing depression in many Koreans.

“[Cryptocurrency] is creating a sort of depression,” Garrick Hileman at the University of Cambridge told the Verdict. “South Koreans are apparently losing motivation to go to work. They are watching their peers make 10 times what they’re making in their day jobs just by speculating on cryptocurrencies.”

“People are seeing relatively small sums of money rising 10- to 20-fold to the millions,” said Dr. Noh Gyu-shik, a well-known psychiatrist and expert in adolescent psychology. “They can’t just ignore what’s going on because the winnings are so large. It’s also difficult to not compare themselves to others. Some may feel like they missed out while resenting their peers’ success.”

A junior employee at a multinational bank, surnamed Park, notes he is experiencing the consequences of the craze, even without having invested into the cryptocurrency. “My manager invested 100 million won into Bitcoin. He doesn’t do anything during work hours except talk about Bitcoin. He starts work when people start leaving at 6 p.m., which means I also have to stay until 10 or 11 p.m.,” Park said.

Park’s superior is glued to his phone and checks the price of the virtual currency every one to three minutes, he noted. Those who have invested substantial sums report feelings of a headache, insomnia, and loss of appetite, among others.

“I should have bought bitcoins last year. I hear stories about people who win millions, and it makes me resent my life. Thinking about going to work tomorrow makes me want to die,” Park said.

The depressive effects of the cryptocurrency, dubbed the “Bitcoin blues,” are now becoming a social problem.

The younger generation, especially, is comparing the money they earn through hard work, often an annual salary of $25,000 to $35,000, with millions made by their peers through virtual coins.

On the other hand, those who invested and lost significant lump sums of hard-won cash are uploading pictures of smashed computers and possessions after gambling and losing their mortgage or their tuition money.

“Often the feeling of loss leads to depression, and the whole situation with Bitcoin seems to breed an environment where feelings of inferiority or loss can occur,” Lee added.

The government has recently laid out new cryptocurrency rules to bring stability to the markets with a real-name policy and measures to crack down on money laundering. Investors were spooked last month over the possibility of a cryptocurrency trading ban, which dropped bitcoin prices.

To ease the shock on investors, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon emphasized the government policy only aims to block illegal activities.

“There are cases in which young Koreans, including students, are jumping in to make quick money while virtual currencies are used for illegal activities like drug dealing or multi-level marketing for frauds,” Lee was quoted as saying by the Verdict. “This can lead to serious distortion or pathological social phenomena if left unaddressed.”

President Moon Jae-in’s economic czar made the same point. “We have no intention to ban or suppress cryptocurrency [market],” Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon said Wednesday.

Despite the high risks in transactions, the cryptocurrency fervor is unlikely to fizzle out anytime soon, if at all, as long as there remain talks – and hopes – about becoming a virtual currency billionaire.

Meanwhile, the Busan Jin Police Station said Thursday a college student in his 20s was found dead in his room in Busan Wednesday morning. The student, who was on leave from a prestigious university, had reportedly displayed depressive feelings after losing money from the virtual currency price shock last month, according to his family.

The police suspect suicide and are investigating the exact cause of death, the agency said. If true, the student is the first victim of cryptocurrency-related death case in Korea.


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