Fear Not the Age of the Blockchain
Choices, emphases, and omissions
The Man is scared. The machine that pushes commuters into the guts of blocky edifices every morning and every day is marshaling its hordes to oppose a revolution that has no face, no headquarters, and no intentions of stopping.
The soldiers of the system are doing what they usually do best with their limited reasoning skills and abundant numbers: parrot whatever their commanders utter. Will it continue to work?
“So it is like magic money?” “a rock, the actor?, a drawing of a rock for a million?” “a bubble, it’s a bubble!”
And their favorite these days: the environment. Of course, Mr. Big Oil and Bank, you’ve always worried about that, haven’t you?
No. This goes beyond magic, rocks and bubbles. This is about who’s in control, this is about us and them.
The age of the blockchain has only just begun.
We, uhhh, lost some people this week and we sorta need to play catch-up
Remember when COVID-19 first hit—the year is in the name—and a part of humanity thought they were going to work from home at their own pace while their kids played around? The way of the future had finally arrived for a few lucky ones. Ah, good times … for about two weeks.
“Hello?, oh, yes, hello, sir. You need it stat? OK … of course, not a problem. No, no, I wasn’t sleeping. Good night, yes, yes. Night, sir.”
“Who was that?”
“Nothing, don’t worry, go back to sleep. I’ve got something to finish.”
“But Steve, it’s three-fucking-A-M!”
The powers that be were quick to snake their way into lunches, bedrooms and weekends everywhere and didn’t take much time before declaring that remote work was a failure—and you too, online education. As usual, the opportunity to try a different way was rapidly discarded; soon after, the sheep began returning to their barns.
But not all of them. A few of us had spent years exploring our options at the intersection of software, cryptography, anarchism, and economics; we were just waiting to break free at the earliest sign of a crack.
This was it.
Shouting Ponzi from the rooftops
Scroll today’s news and you’ll find one more story about Bitcoin plunging—it’s usually Bitcoin as that’s what ignorance likes to do, putting everything and everybody new and different in the same bag.
Can’t the mass media see the irony of being so slow that by the time their dramatic reportages reach the audience any dip has already passed? It doesn’t matter; the stories are designed to soothe the gen pop as the status quo is always favorable to those who dominate and those barely making it feel good with everything staying just the same, lest they have to make an effort to adapt.
It’s in the nature of an absurd number of humans to attack what they can’t understand and reject the activities in which they can’t participate and thus the opportunity for those who dare to break ranks, who take the time to study and understand instead of maniacally regurgitating what the pundits feed them.
Nietzsche once said that “to the mediocre, mediocrity is a form of happiness,” and unfortunately everybody wants to be happy. Or, as the Controller said in Brave New World: “People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get.”
A blockchain is software that keeps a list of transactions grouped in blocks, each one cryptographically linked to the previous one. It’s also a network of computers replicating this digital public ledger around the world so that no single entity has full control. A decentralized system designed to be fault tolerant and guarantee the integrity of its data.
Many blockchains can can also store and run applications, called smart contracts, and this is where glimpses of the revolution come to light. Don’t get confused by the word contract as it has nothing to do with laws; it’s a contract in the sense of “if you do this then I’ll do that,” which is what software programming is all about.
An NFT is a record created and stored in the blockchain. We call this record a token and the process of its creation minting. An NFT can be transferred to an account and that account becomes its owner.
What’s special about NFTs is in that second letter. Unlike money or stocks, which are fungible, hence interchangeable for any other of the same type and value, a token that is not fungible is unique and distinguishable, like a collectible stamp or toy, so if you own token #69 of an NFT collection nobody else can own it.
Each NFT may include a set of attributes (properties describing what it stands for) and a representation that can be a small image stored on-chain, any type of media in off-chain storage, or even a physical asset.
NFTs are not just about their representation—although many of them are and that’s just fine, that’s a great looking sneaky vampire, by the way—-but also about transfer mechanisms and proof and history of ownership, all without the intervention of third parties. Everything that happens, happens between one account belonging to one person and the blockchain.
Oh yeah, there are plenty of reasons for bankers, realtors, insurers, car dealers, all kinds of in-betweeners, and even governments, to be scared. Entire bureaucracies and industries are at risk of losing their victims. Isn’t that beautiful?
This is just my rudimentary summary but there are resources online with much better explanations of how a blockchain works and what an NFT is so please do your own research and only jump in when you have a clear understanding of what you are getting into.
Never gonna make it
If you don’t know who or what Pak is and what NGMI means then you have a lot more learning to do, as has the author of that piece. She doesn’t mention anything about ownership, decentralization or smart contracts, and I’m not giving her the benefit of the doubt—she’s definitely trolling.
The world has seen so many iterations of the same story that I find it astounding that most are still so slow to react when change is about to break. In the final years of the nineteenth century the public marked those who wanted to replace horses with cars as imbeciles, in the 1940s the president of IBM predicted a world market for five computers, and in 1995 Bob Metcalfe, one of the inventors of Ethernet, predicted the Internet would suffer a catastrophic collapse in 1996.
Of course there’s an element of difficult-to-see-the-future-is in these stories—my bearded avatar had to abandon his Second Life house when I joined Twitter in 2006 as it was too early for a metaverse back then—but let’s not forget the role of the special interests with much to lose, the Buffets and the Dimons of the world, who know they are going the way of the travel agent.
Wake up, fear not, and remember: The weapons of the next revolution won’t be molotov cocktails and clubs but communities and knowledge, and those, those can crumble any empire.