June 12, 2023
4 min

Decentralization 101

Last week, I attended a blockchain workshop in NYC. These are pretty common and are usually run by well-versed enthusiasts/professionals within the technology space. The lead speaker at this particular event (which focused on the music industry) was a highly knowledgable teacher and had a lot of points to get through in a fairly short amount of time.

Perhaps because of the density of the information and the time restrictions, his delivery of facts was so fast and crypto-acronym-fin-tech-lingo-laden that I think it assumed higher levels of audience familiarity with the subject matter. Which, for the most part, there was not. This was a music event, and most attendees were creatives or independent industry professionals. Rightfully so! The topic of decentralization is, at its core, so lateral that almost every industry and aspect of modern life should find space to explore its applications. Failure to connect and understand this technology will soon be seen as a failure to adapt and sustain one’s existence in the inevitable future.

Yet this topic isn’t like learning to play angry birds on your smartphone!

Any non-Computer Science individual who has taken to educating themselves on cryptocurrency, blockchain and distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) is faced with a months-long learning curve just to feel comfortable buying a coin and storing it.

“What is it? How does it work? Why is it decentralized?

Isn’t there a greater risk of losing my money? What’s a blockchain anyway?

Cold/Hot wallet, what?”

And that’s to say nothing of the additional learning curves for those who are technically proficient but lack education on the more macro-systemic applications presented in DLTs.

Let’s just say, an artist is all at once faced with the largest economic, political, philosophical, existential propositions about the nature of money, governance, belief and security/privacy. Not to mention having to navigate regulations, IP laws, market dynamics, encryption, taxes, viable monetization models…just to feel comfortable investing in a new coin or token and holding it. These are not things that your average citizen has had to understand on any deep level in order to get by. But this doesn’t have to be occult information.

Our next job as stewards of sustainable technology and finance models is to educate and onboard broad strokes of people, in the most efficient ways we can devise. Not just get them excited about the concepts — ground them in the application. Compel humanity to feel the day-to-day expressions of this revolutionary technology.

We should not simply assume that folks will figure it out as the UI/UX get sorted, and as networks reduce volatility and increase volume. The biggest companies will preempt this — adopting the banner of decentralization, and luring general users through familiarity and high levels of convenience. But as we know, that convenience comes at an often not-fully-understood cost. It usually involves making shortcuts and sacrificing crucial aspects of decentralization that the public would deem important — if they knew enough about it. Those shortcuts involve handing over a lot more personal information and accepting its inevitable aggregation and sale by the convenience overlords. Data’s the new oil, as the current saying goes.

The real first step of transparent ledgers is to “run clean water” through our centralized systems, washing out corruption, bad-actor incentives, and backdoor corporate policies that are not equitable for the general population’s mutually-desired goals. This lays the groundwork for rewiring economic and social incentives to generate revenue by making good, conscientious decisions. Then, to supplement and integrate these publicly audited central systems with decentralized, distributed networks that use open-source localized information to run themselves with utmost precision, privacy and positive feedback.

Simple, right?

Well, most eyes glaze over when I even say “distributed network.”

We’ve got a long way to go.

By having a decentralized autonomic nervous system, we humans have managed to compress half a billion years of evolution into distributed biological network shortcuts with such efficiency that we don’t need to exert any conscious effort to manage it. Blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, body temperature, etc. Our Smart City-esque flesh suits contain fantastic localized networks that can better respond in real-time to the environment than if our central, conscious computing power was running the show. Friggin’ cool.

I think most of us within the space accidentally take for granted whether or not folks are able to spend the time/energy to lay all of this groundwork prior to engaging. They’re curious but strapped for time and attention. Why learn all of this when you can just plug ‘n play with Facebook’s Libra? “Bitcoin is used by criminals after all — this seems like a much safer option!” Well, that’s the attitude that we need to better inform and help counteract.

It’s not that we don’t need both centralized and decentralized structures — it’s that we need them both to be at their highest levels of authenticity and integration. This can only happen through inclusive education, cooperation and global levels of collaboration.