Easy money or desperation? Argentina’s Worldcoin craze reflects a struggle for survival amid economic crisis

Standing before the orb – the cold, impersonal device that scans irises – I felt as though I was surrendering a piece of my soul to Worldcoin. Doubts gnawed at me… I felt demeaned but focused on the overpowering truth: my dire need for money.

  • 8 months ago
  • September 1, 2023
6 min read
Argentinian citizens queue to exchange their biometric data for Worldcoin tokens | Photo courtesy of Lucas Real Argentinian citizens queue to exchange their biometric data for Worldcoin tokens | Photo courtesy of Lucas Real
Interview Subject
Lucas Real, a 22-year-old from the Buenos Aires suburbs, is a hardworking individual committed to supporting his family. Employed full-time, Lucas demonstrates not only dedication but also adaptability and intelligence in the ever-changing world of technology. With an early interest in cryptocurrency, he once mined for Ethereum, acquiring essential knowledge that later enabled him to securely convert Worldcoin to local currency. This astute awareness of the cryptocurrency market served him well, but his pragmatic approach led him to cease mining when the cost of electricity surpassed the income.
Background Context
Worldcoin is an ambitious new project helmed by Sam Altman, founder and CEO of OpenAI, the company renowned for its AI technologies such as ChatGPT.
Users can engage with Worldcoin through an app that awards vouchers in the company’s own cryptocurrency. These awards are contingent on users verifying their identity by scanning their eye iris using a specialized device known as the “orb.” As of now, nearly three million people have registered on the platform, primarily in developing regions such as Latin America and Africa, where the economic promise of Worldcoin is particularly appealing in contexts of poverty.

MALVINAS, Argentina — On a chilly morning, I took a packed train, its rhythmic clatter echoing for an hour, then walked more than two kilometers to reach the Worldcoin scanning center. A two-hundred-meter-long line around the building awaited, filled with people of all ages and backgrounds. Varied tunes from different countries permeated the air. Some people, still in their work uniforms, looked weary but determined. Our profound need for money united us.

[Worldcoin is an ambitious new company which awards vouchers through cryptocurrency via an app. The awards require users to verify their identity by scanning their irises into a Worldcoin “orb.” Millions of people have done it, many of whom come from impoverished communities in Latin America.]

A family crisis leads to economic desperation

As a kid enthralled by the digital universe, I found my bliss in circuit boards and computer screens. Armed with YouTube tutorials and relentless curiosity, I built my computer, piece by piece. I was a self-taught engineer long before setting foot in a college classroom.

Then came a jarring interruption. One evening, my dad walked in, his usually buoyant face clouded with worry. “I’ll be unemployed starting next month,” he announced, his words landing like a ton of bricks. Suddenly, the soldering iron and circuit boards felt trivial.

Faced with this stark reality, my youthful pursuits paled in significance. “It’s time for me to contribute,” I realized, feeling the weight of adulthood settling in. This was no longer just about my dreams; it was about keeping my family afloat in uncharted waters.

Ever since childhood, video games and computers served as my sanctuary. I dedicated endless hours tinkering with hardware, enamored by the unique role each piece played. Naturally, I chose to study Systems Engineering after high school, taking my first stride toward a dream career that promised pure joy.

When my path took an unexpected turn, I searched relentlessly for a job for nearly a year before securing a part-time position. The sole bright spot in this challenging journey was that it allowed me to continue my studies a little longer before fully stepping away from academia.

As our situation deteriorated, Worldcoin began appearing on my social media feeds

Living with Type 1 Diabetes added another layer of complexity to our already precarious situation. My mom’s near-constant anxiety over my condition clashed with my resentment of being prioritized over my parents. Sometimes, we only had maté and cookies to curb our hunger.

My dad’s face haunts me to this day, but it also serves as a driving force. His setback pushed me to work harder and to be better. Now, my main focus is contributing to my family’s well-being. The stakes have never been higher, but neither has my determination.

Our finances dwindled to the point where we had to cut the cable, our last vestige of simple home entertainment. A cocktail of sadness and rage surged within me at the sight of my parents’ struggle. It’s incomprehensible how someone can toil their entire life only to be discarded like yesterday’s news, left without even the small comfort of watching TV because it’s unaffordable.

However, life took a turn when my workplace offered me a full-time position. I had to pause my education, but I greeted it as a breakthrough, knowing I could now fill our dinner table. My mom made me promise to return to school eventually, a promise I fully intend to keep. For now, though, adaptation is my mantra. As I commute to work each weary morning, a searing anger courses through me. I feel as though someone or something robbed me of my future.

Despite our best efforts, our financial difficulties persist. My dad has been unemployed for two years, and my mom takes occasional, on-demand jobs. So, when whispers of “easy money” arrived as Worldcoin’s name appeared on my social networks, it sparked my curiosity. In Argentina, every financial opportunity is worth investigating and I couldn’t ignore the siren call.

Argentinian sells biometric data to Worldcoin but the promise fell flat

As I stood in line to be scanned by Worldcoin, I remained skeptical the entire time. During the more than half an hour I spent in line, I pondered why I was exposing myself this way. The faces around me appeared filled with hope and desperation, a mirror to my own emotions. Uncertainty and questions lingered as the line slowly moved forward.

Standing before the orb – the cold, impersonal device that scans irises – I felt as though I was surrendering a piece of my soul to Worldcoin. Doubts gnawed at me, but my rationale reminded me this was no different from my digital trials on social media. I felt demeaned but focused on the overpowering truth: my dire need for money. Every time I had a doubt, that answer returned.

Lucas holding the Orb at one of Worldcoin’s locations | Photo courtesy of Lucas Real

Since I got scanned, I am stuck with a partial balance in the Worldcoin app, which the system will not let me withdraw. Each day, I watch as the cryptocurrency’s value dwindles, diminishing the worth of the personal data I provided. Feeling deceived, I have written it off as a loss. I consented to share my information and even allowed an iris scan, all based on a grand promise that meant nothing. The experience left me utterly frustrated.

All of this has left me feeling a desperate need for a change in politics. As a young adult, my focus should be on education and building a future, not selling my personal data for a quick meal. I should be studying, not engaging in an economy that forces me into such decisions. I feel as though our leaders lie to us and lead us down a path of broken promises.

In a developed country, this situation would likely never occur. Even though the Worldcoin app still holds some of my balance, I managed to withdraw and convert 60 dollars in cryptocurrency. While some might consider this a trivial amount, it served as a lifeline for me. I converted it into Argentine pesos and bought food that lasted me two days. This money did more than fill my wallet; it offered me a brief respite in my constant battle for survival. However, the reality of what it represented – a system that failed me and countless others – remains palpable.

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.


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