As someone who often fantasizes about how blockchain is going to change our world, I've had (too) many conversations around the future of this technology that don't ever result in tangible plans of action. This is frustrating. While I genuinely believe that blockchain technology will play an important role in our future, I also feel that we've been irresponsible in thinking that its unique ability to redistribute power or 'tokenize' the world is enough for its adoption to happen organically.
It should be clear by now that adopting blockchain is a long and difficult road that will continue to garner controversy and dissent. That is not to say that blockchain hasn't made any strides — it has already changed the lives of many people, and its promises of increasing transparency and rebalancing our world has very real potentials. But just because this future is a possibility and we really want it to happen, doesn't mean that it's going to.
There's more to adoption than just a good idea. Blockchain is not going to be our future unless some people who have a lot of power help or agree to make it our future. And that some people also have to be ones who prioritize the wellbeing of others over themselves.
I feel it is important to acknowledge now rather than later that we need a lot of selflessness in order for this technology to succeed. Because..
Blockchain does not benefit those that want to profit
Unfortunately for blockchain technology, one of its most promising characteristics — its ability to redistribute power through decentralization — is also the reason that it doesn't make a lot of financial sense for many businesses. By restructuring the way we communicate, connect and work with each other, blockchain technology essentially takes control away from those in power, and gives some of it back to the network. As we all know, control = influence = power/money, and that is a hard thing to give up.
How does blockchain technology work?
Blockchain technology is essentially an accounting system that is operated by a network that follows a set of rules laid out by code. Its 'decentralization' comes from the fact that theoretically, no one in the network has more decision making power than anyone else.
A simple way of looking at how it works can be through the perspective of taking attendance in a classroom. In a normal class setting, the teacher usually takes attendance quickly through his/her own method, and then keeps 1 record of daily attendance to him/herself. But if the classroom were a blockchain network, then every student in the room would be tasked with verifying and keeping his/her own record of the other students' attendance. In the context of a blockchain, the students are the nodes in the network, the attendance data is the information in the blocks, and the record of attendance is the blockchain/ledger. So instead of the teacher marking yes for Student A's attendance and calling it a day, that information can only be recorded once every student in the classroom confirms that this is true. Then this information is jotted down in the same format for each student's own record, so everyone possesses the same record of attendance.
What are the positives of this method? The recorded information is definitely more reliable, as having more people confirm a truth is usually better than relying on one person. Also, since now there's a whole classroom's worth of records, it is no big deal if the teacher loses his/her copy. Plus, the teacher can't fake anything like a perfect attendance score for his/her pet student, since the other students would have the records to prove otherwise. In effect, the teacher loses the power to make authoritative decisions because now, the students have control over the attendance records as well. While this creates a fairer attendance system for the classroom, how does this benefit the teacher?
This is why blockchain adoption is slow
We're currently living in a world that is largely controlled by financial gain, which means most people are only interested in investing in innovation that will prove profitable. In its current form, blockchain technology is not a profit-making technology. Unless we're talking about speculation in the crypto market, which is more of a gamble than anything else. And if we want to argue that it builds trust within their communities which can equal future dollars, there are many other ways to build trust than through code. By shifting control and power to the users, this technology inherently favors the users over the businesses.
Additionally, blockchain technology's lack of central authority means that it's way less efficient, extremely cumbersome, and requires a lot of investment. This creates a lot of issues for businesses that are probably not worth the effort to fix. In my opinion, it's crazy to think that adopting blockchain technology would make sense for many businesses or industries.
So, how do we encourage blockchain adoption?
There is a lot of potential for blockchain that I don't think has been fully explored, and it is difficult to really investigate these possibilities if we're still focusing on using it to improve businesses. It's important to shift focus away from using this technology to make businesses more efficient, because it doesn't really. Its inefficiency as a technology means that we need to find scenarios where using blockchain technology is the ONLY option for making things better; where its benefits far outweigh the investments and resources that are required to make it work.
For example, blockchain technology is not the only way to keep records, it is also not the only way to manage supply chains, nor distribute income from social media posts. But, in a country where the government can abuse their power and change the value of a currency drastically overnight, blockchain makes a lot more sense. Blockchain is at its most powerful when it is used to serve the people.
Bitcoin is a great working example of this — it's already helping people in 3rd world countries to take control of their wealth, as told by Bitcoin's "patient zero". But there are many more applications, even outside of the financial industry, that we could explore. Like creating transparent and trustworthy voting systems in countries where corruption is rampant. Or providing an avenue for cross-border payments that does not involve banks, especially for those that are unbanked. In sectors where people are always thinking of the greater good, it makes sense to incorporate a technology that automatically accounts for the wellbeing of the network, rather than the individual.
As a community, we need to be focusing more on these issues and reaching out to those whose sole mission is to help people in need. We need to be educating the government, nonprofit organizations, and other participants in the public sector about how this can increase trust and help improve the lives of those that they are serving. We need to help them create blockchain networks that prioritize the network participants over the powerful few. Because if we want blockchain technology to be our future, then we need to work with the technology as it is — as a tool to help the masses regain control within their own lives.
This article was originally published on Medium here.