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Chances are you’ve read about blockchain and didn’t have any trouble. (I’m raising my hand shyly.) Maybe you’ve never heard of it.
My colleague Nathaniel Popper will explain what you need to know and separate the blockchain hope from the hype.
Nathaniel spoke to me about why some technologists can’t stay quiet about blockchain, and as he researched his latest paper, what did he find about how it could be – or maybe not! – help people remodel the Internet with little control over by giants like Google and Facebook.
Shira: I need to explain this to me many times. What is blockchain? And how is it different from Bitcoin?
Nathaniel: Blockchain in the simplest terms is a ledger – a method of storing records – invented for Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency. Unlike conventional records kept by a bank or accountant, a blockchain ledger uses a series of computers that each add new entries visible to everyone.
The blockchain design Bitcoin inspired has been adapted for other types of records. The basic principle is that there is no central authority that controls a single ledger. Everyone is part of a system that controls a decentralized and shared record.
An example of how this might work?
A regular currency exchange can take your money, hold it, and also keep the money you buy. If it gets hacked, you can lose money. With a decentralized financial exchange based on a blockchain design, just like what Bitcoin uses, you don’t need to trust an authority with your money. The two are automatically matched via software and they communicate directly with each other.
Blockchains sound like the sky.
That is what I have believed for a long time. But these blockchain ideas are moving from concepts to live – albeit troubled – experiments.
On social networks like LBRY and Minds, people can see for themselves how it differs from YouTube or Facebook. The concept is that no company controls or can delete your account. Each user can see that the posted video or other material hasn’t been altered by anyone else.
Whether you agree or disagree with Twitter for getting rid of Donald Trump’s account after the attack on the Capitol, it’s an interesting idea that under a blockchain-based design, he can put His more than 80 million Twitter followers went to another social network instead of losing everything.
It will take some time before people can judge whether these blockchain applications are actually doing what they suggest and are an improvement over the status quo. Bitcoin has been around for a while, and smart people still disagree on whether it’s useful or not.
There are always downsides. What are they for blockchain?
One major downside is that central regulators are ineffective in building reliable software and fixing it when something goes wrong. With a decentralized network of computers and programmers, no boss says that this vulnerability has to be fixed in 20 minutes.
And when there is a centralized system in the financial sector or social media, the government or other authority can prevent terrorists or other criminals from using it. With blockchain-based designs, control is more difficult.
Business & Economy
Why is there like that fanatical worship with Bitcoin and blockchain?
Bitcoin is like a social movement. The users of the system feel like they are responsible because, in essence, they are making the system work. The same is true for blockchain designs. They make people feel empowered in a way that isn’t possible with regular software.
Bitcoin started with the lofty idea of democratizing money. But now it’s like Beanie Babies – something people buy make money. Will the blockchain concept also morph into something less pure?
It is true that many Bitcoin users are just betting that it will increase in value. But Bitcoin also gives people the incentive to get used to the strange notion of large systems that are not controlled by a single agency. It is likely that the excitement and even some greed surrounding Bitcoin has helped drive these blockchain experiments.
Everything is internet life, including stock fights
I was horrified for days by the story of a Reddit message board and its crusade involving video game retailer GameStop.
The Short Version: Some Wall Street experts are betting that GameStop’s share price will drop and smugly believing they’re right. A Reddit group called WallStreetBets tried to prove them wrong or just mess with them by organizing to raise GameStop’s stock price. The company’s shares are plummeting. All are strange and there are no heroes in this story. (See Matt Levine’s column in Bloomberg Comments on this.)
When I see Redditors versus Wall Street dudes, I remember how online has changed the way we relate to each other. There is no bright line between internet life and real life.
WallStreetBets showcases the same kind of super-online social dynamics that have helped propel the presidential candidates of Mr. Trump and Andrew Yang and behind Korean pop fans who guarantee their favorite bands Their tendencies are online and those involved in political activities.
The GameStop campaign’s chaotic behavior, the unification around a common cause, and the inner jokes – like the one about chicken tendering – have the same mechanics as the gaggers harassing video creators gay and transgender on TikTok and there was a research ship called “Boaty McBoatface” a few years ago. (To be clear, stock-trading campaigns are not the same as harassing teenagers.)
Ryan Broderick, an internet culturalist, wrote in his Garbage Day newsletter that the GameStop saga shows similarities between social media and the stock market. “If you can create enough hype around something, through memes, conspiracy theories and harassment campaigns, you can make it happen,” he writes.
My colleague Nellie Bowles wrote this week about the ways in which screen work has begun to infuse the worst elements of aggressive internet chat in the workplace culture. That is no different from what’s going on with the dark side of stock market speculation. People are adapting to life online in ways that sometimes feel thrilling – and other times nothingness and horror.
Before we go …
May we all feel the joy that Nia Dennis, a UCLA gymnast, is in with this routine. (Thanks to California Today writer Jill Cowan for recommending this video.)
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