Article: The Blockchain Is a Reminder of the Internet’s Failure


#1

This is a short but powerful article that appeared a few days ago: https://medium.com/s/love-hate/the-blockchain-is-a-reminder-of-the-internets-failure-b16c58d70413. Curious to hear others’ thoughts.

The gist of the article is that people will be people, and tech is just a tool that can be used for good or for ill – that blockchain is no different, that we are being incredibly naive if we think that “this time is different” and that we are failing to learn the lessons of the past 25 years:

I am confounded by their inability to see that they are falling victim to exactly the same fallacies their hacker forebears embraced: this notion that we can code ourselves out of the deep holes we’ve dug; that we are building utopias in our virtualities that will finesse away the imperfections of human character.

The takeaway is that we should spend less time writing code and more time “pressing the flesh”:

To successfully deal with the failings of humanity, we have to spend more time with humans and less time thumbing our smartphones.

It’s hard to disagree with this point, and part of my motivation for launching Etherean.org is to facilitate exactly this dialogue:

  • What lessons should we learn from the Internet and Web2?
  • How do we ensure that this technology is used primarily for good rather than “mayhem”?
  • What’s the right balance between designing systems and writing code on the one hand, and “pressing the flesh” on the other hand?

I do feel that this article is a little overly pessimistic about the potential of blockchain to have a positive impact that’s bigger than the Internet, but at this moment it’s also a little unclear to me how we get there.


#2

I was about to write exactly the same thinking as yours @lane after reading this article. I very much agree that technology is a tool, just like pretty much everything else in our everyday lives. However, this tool called Blockchain is different because of the core values it caries. There is always a possibility for misuse and in my views even trading can be considered as such because of the enormous potential this tech offers us. We just scratched the surface, revolutionary things are upon us.

What we need to do is work towards education on transformative power of ourselves having an assistive tool that enables us to do it better.

More thinking about this to follow as this is my motivation and life project.


#3

I agree, this is a powerful article, but I can’t really say I agree with it on the whole. I honestly think it’s just a bit too pessimistic from someone who saw the internet fall short of their expectations - which is fine, and even understandable. I feel the same about the internet’s potential and where it has ended up, and have been reading articles for years with this same tone. (one such example from 2015 - https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/qkjpbd/pirate-bay-founder-peter-sunde-i-have-given-up) Also though, any and EVERY technology or tool throughout human history has been available for use for both positive and negative uses. I am not one of the opinion that this will ever change, or that this should be a factor that underscores the entirety of any tech.

I think these questions are really important too though, thanks for them @lane

For the first, I think there are a lot of lessons, particularly around data sharing and monetization as exemplified by the most recent NY Times story on FB: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/technology/facebook-privacy.html

For the second, I don’t think there is really a way to actually enforce any balance on this, except that as the majority of people start to move over to the tech, most people are not interested in creating mayhem with tech, but using it to help them make life easier or enable different aspects of life or organization. Maybe that’s a bit pessimistic, but it goes back to my assertion that every technology can and will be used for both bad and good. Certainly there could be some sort of regulation or falling back to law for enforcement, but I don’t believe that “negative” uses will ever be eradicated.

And for the last, I think this forum and others like it are a good start. I think an increase of interdisciplinary design will also help. But there needs to be a decent testing/feedback loop of finding out how and why people are using the system, and iterate again if there are issues. I don’t think this is particularly different from the approach now though, except that we maybe haven’t gotten far enough along the initial design/dev work to really test and reiterate with many projects in the space. I could be wrong on that too though.

Lastly, I really dislike the idea that utopianism is somehow bad. I’ve been seeing this sentiment in a lot of places of late. I don’t think anyone is deluding themselves into thinking blockchain alone will lead us into some utopian existence simply by the tech existing. But I think it’s really important to consider where we want to move to, which could be utopian to some extent, and then incrementally iterating toward this goal. However, these iterations should not only be looked at as how close they are getting to the utopia (which I think is the sole process utopian-haters see), but it also requires a serious critical view of each iteration as to what is going wrong, what unexpected effects do we see, etc.

This again goes back to the original article I think. It talks about human nature as opposed to technological emancipation. And a lot of the issues that we see with the internet as we have it today I think actually are less about the technology. It is (IMO) more about the lack of critical thought about the tech and unintended consequences by those who create it, and also a lack of critical evaluation of information, self-selected mediascapes and “fake-news”, which leads to the effect the author eloquently states:
“Instead of leading us to truth, the Internet gave everyone the unparalleled opportunity to build their own personal knowledge universe, catalyzing a comprehensive unmooring of society from actual fact that has surely been a factor in the rise of Trump and a global turn towards propaganda-fed authoritarianism.”

Thing is, if it’s not actually the internet that did this, and it’s actually us as humans (which I think it is), it makes the question of how to fix it a much more complex issue than if we could just say “well, it’s the internet”. And I think a lot of people are scared to come to that realization, as complex issues generally make people uncomfortable.

I also have to agree with @marko quite a lot here:

Anyway, this post is already way too long, so I’ll cut it here and chime back in later :wink:


#4

A tool cannot carry core values.

It should not matter what people use this tool for, and if you see that as ‘misuse’. Of course people will use this tool, just like a hammer or PGP, in a way that hurts other people. But it should not matter for us, because blockchain helps to solve a different problem:

Decentralizing a data base simply makes it more resilient against an attack. Lets assume that some humans got more power over others and abuse this power. Lets say a few humans are inherently bad, while most are not.

I think what blockchain systems can do is to give those few bad actors a smaller weight in decisions on building our future society - to make imperfections of human character count less.


#5

Here’s another perspective that I think fits well into this conversation, and about how we came to the contemporary internet - we’ve simply most often been mapping out old systems onto a new platform rather than experimenting with and creating new options for human collaboration and organization. This may be an oversimplification, but I think is a perspective that many that have seen the development of the internet from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 could agree with.