Why you should care more about blockchain’s interface with society than the technology itself
We were recently asked to put together a discussion panel for an OECD summit entitled “Could blockchain help save the environment?” and we may have shocked the organizers when we suggested to them that they shouldn’t invite any blockchain experts.
It’s more important to discuss areas “bordering” the technology, and talk about things that “touch” it, we argued, than focus on the distributed ledger itself.
Computers have recently completely changed their role in society. They have been incredibly useful for a very long time, but in a somewhat indirect way, via computer screens behind the walls of data centers It is only recently, however, that they have jumped into our pockets;into various “things” all around us, and got all connected up, entering our real, physical lives. And our heads.
It's now more important to consider what effect a smartphone is having on your children, than how many MHz or GBs it has; it’s more important to study social networks’ impact on consumer behaviour, politics, or personal relationships, than which relational database is being used.
Blockchain is now rather like euthanasia. Far more important than the technicalities of the actual act is to think about what role it has over one’s life, or how society, the state, or one’s family influences it. Euthanasia is not about how many milligrams of which substance needs to be administered it is about the essence, origin, even the very meaning of life.
It’s the same with blockchain. It’s not about the technology anymore, it’s about what role society or the state should have over our lives; it’s about how we trust various institutions and each other. Your opinion about blockchain is likely not formed by what you know about it, but rather by what your beliefs are in these various social or political areas. Technology is now ideology: You tell me who you are, and I will tell you what you think about blockchain.
A debate with a libertarian about blockchain is like talking to a priest about euthanasia - it is useful only if you fully grasp beforehand, the background of strong opinions across the subject area.
It’s interesting that while plenty of priests, as well as sociologists, philosophers, politicians, and medical experts eagerly enter the discussion around euthanasia, they rarely debate blockchain. And they should!
As technology now influences our lives in a very profound manner, we need to hear their opinions. When it comes to discussing blockchain’s undeniably substantial impact on the economy, society, medicine, and ecology, it’s now mainly IT geeks, or crypto mathematicians, who are asked to comment.
But it’s not that they just lack the sufficient knowledge of the associated liberal arts. Curiously, they only belong to one end of the possible opinion spectrum. In economics, they favour laissez faire, in politics, they prefer direct democracy, in cities, for instance, they oppose drone regulation. It’s the equivalent of priests being our only experts on euthanasia.
So who should be on a discussion panel about how blockchain can save the environment? Call environmentalists, economists, politicians, philosophers, but not programmers!
All you need to explain to them about blockchain is that it’s an immutable database shared by many parties, which no one governs. Then ask them - can it save the world?
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