The internet was great, then it was fucked, now the blockchain looks set to save the web – and the world

blockchain

The blockchain is burning like a fire, about to explode and wreak havoc across the world, and then it will cleanse our corrupt, ailing, and moribund society. The blockchain is a virtual Ragnorok, bringing a metaphorical nuclear winter to the old guard and staid institutions (including government and state systems), and then sweeping liberty and freedom across the world.

The various peasants’ revolts always failed – or the leaders of the revolts were conned and tricked by the ruling classes, then were usually killed. But now, the blockchain revolt has the potential to blast apart the ruling money elites of the world. And the “peasants” will find there’s a level playing field – IF they choose to play.

The mysterious founder of Bitcoin and the blockchain, Satoshi Nakamoto – an apparent genius – could have come from the future, worked with archaic C++ code to create a system to prevent some kind of 1984 future (which we’ve already got, pretty much, but it can only get worse). Then he departed this timeline and either went back to the future, or somewhere else.

Satoshi embedded the following in the code of his genesis block (the first block of a blockchain – “block 0”):

The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks

Which suggests he foresaw the end of the “religion” (and corruption) of fiat money, our current financial system which is not backed up by anything tangible like gold, and is essentially based on belief. If that belief evaporates, our current money system ends…but as perhaps the majority of humans are hard-wired to believe in all sorts of stuff, this could explain why it hasn’t yet ended.

And via other online quotes from Satoshi, we see that his endgame was freedom for the peoples of earth. Though he does say “freedom for several years” [my emphasis]… so possibly he also foresaw the old guard winning back control.

Yes, [we will not find a solution to political problems in cryptography,] but we can win a major battle in the arms race and gain a new territory of freedom for several years.

Governments are good at cutting off the heads of a centrally controlled networks like Napster, but pure P2P networks like Gnutella and Tor seem to be holding their own.[4]

It’s very attractive to the libertarian viewpoint if we can explain it properly. I’m better with code than with words though.

I don’t really believe Satoshi was from the future. It’s just a nice metaphor about somebody who seems to have provided the world with something incredible that could change everything.

First came the internet, then it was fucked

The internet was also a game changer, much like the advent of the printing press. It began in a blaze of glory, a free-for-all, both good and bad. The web was a kind of emancipation.

But slowly corporate interests, and statism, took over. Google, Facebook and others offered apparently wondrous services for free. Incredible, we thought. In the past we had to pay for everything. But now we really can get a free lunch.

Of course, none of this was really free. You were the product. Or your data was. And the big internet companies sold it all on for profit.

Fair enough in many ways. I mean, I wouldn’t build a damn great software artifice for free. But I probably would have said:

“Look, this ain’t free. You give me your data and details, likes, loves and hates, and I sell it all on. If you want privacy, you can pay me £300 a year per user. If you don’t like it, fuck you. At least I’ve been honest with you. Go back to scratching words on stone tablets and making porno movies on grainy old 8mm cine cameras.”

And when the internet began to hit prime time, media outlets had to move online, and they offered their content for free, the idea being to make money from ads. Gradually their print sales started to decline and they depended on the internet for revenues. This led to clickbait headlines, pumping out content for clicks, and the more-or-less total decline of quality journalism.

Alongside this came the rise of alternative media, which hit the pockets of traditional media outlets even more.

In the end, chaos reigned with everybody crazily competing for clicks. Who the hell cares how you get ’em! Make stuff up, stretch the truth, we need that money… and if governments want us to spin propaganda, so be it.

The big losers were content creators. Across the board, writers, musicians, photographers, pretty much all creatives, weren’t making the money any more. It was a bloodbath. Poverty was the norm for the creative. Working for pennies. Clickbaiting like hell to get every last cent possible just to eat.

Book deals used to be pretty lucrative too. Wasn’t hard to score a £20,000 advance even up to about 2006. Now you don’t get a dime. And you have to have a sizable social media following to get published in the first place. So again, quality is sacrificed over quantity.

Books are pretty much dead, in fact. Why would you even write one unless it is for love or to get out a message you believe in?

Along came the blockchain and…

…well, it looks set to prove a massive game changer. Unless they get on board, Facebook, Google, Spotify, Amazon, Netflix could all be hit hard. Will they crumble? Probably not as the average dumb-wit, picket fence grunt doesn’t much care about online privacy and freedom. But if the swathe of new blockchain services start to hit prime time, like the sheep they are, the grunts will follow the herd. And who knows, they might even begin to wake up to the new world and its new found freedoms.

But don’t be fooled by mainstream media, which often derides Bitcoin and the technologies surrounding it. There’s a huge burst of new privacy-focused, decentralized technologies coming out (decentralized means the data isn’t stored in one place, it’s spread out so nobody owns it). You’ve obviously got crypto-currencies, but also decentralized apps (or dApps) for writing, social media, music – you name it.

But let’s take media, we’ve got blockchain-based Civil which could change the face of journalism and news. As the Civil people put it:

There hasn’t been a lot to celebrate in the journalism world lately. Newspapers continue to shut down at unprecedented rates. Digital publishers, which largely rely on ad-driven revenue models, are largely struggling to produce quality journalism. It’s time for something new.

And Civil is built to deliver. The idea is that journalists should be “solely beholden” to their readers, not to tailoring editorial to please Facebook and Google, and the huge audiences they command.

“Quality journalism is about accessibility, not algorithms,” goes the Civil mission statement.

Some newsrooms have already signed up with Civil. You’ve got Block Club Chicago, which is local, neighborhood Chicago news. Popula, which says it will be like an alt-weekly, but publishing daily, and has top journalists from LA Times, New Yorker and Gawker. And then there’s Sludge, an investigative outlet that says it’s “putting lobbyists on notice and exposing dark money’s influence over politics.”

In music, we’ve got blockchain-based Ujo, through which Imogen Heap released her “Tiny Human” on the Etherium blockchain. It didn’t sell many copies, but it was an experiment. Given time and more uptake, systems like Ujo, or Ujo itself, could well prove to be the next big disruptors of the music industry.

The point is, though, if all this moves into prime time, content creators and creatives of all kinds will be in a far better position to earn money from what they create.

So far as I can tell ebooks have not yet been addressed with a blockchain model. With ebooks, we need to lose the proprietary Kindle created by Amazon. We need to be free to read ebooks like we did printed books – as in no proprietary reading device. What we need is a default “player” for books pre-installed on phones and tablets. And of course we need an open format like ePub that every writer and publisher uses, with titles put on a blockchain which syncs to your devices, and sets the copyright in stone.

Amazon muscled in and took the monopoly on ebooks. And this needs to be totally destroyed. In my view, Amazon has stolen books and literature, and this is a disservice to us all.

But my overall point is that the blockchain stands to take down the corporate hegemonies, and this couldn’t come a minute too soon.

Equally, the blockchain stands to disrupt nation states, financial institutions and governments…

Voting could be a lot more accurate, and less open to tampering, if each vote is recorded on a blockchain. Money transactions could be more direct, and cut out the “bankster” middlemen, as we’ve seen with Bitcoin. Contracts for property and services, again, could be set in stone when recorded on a blockchain.

I’m not saying there won’t be issues. We’ll have to go through all sorts of teething troubles, and also potential assault from the old guard of banks and governments.

To me the blockchain is the tool that Wat Tyler and his peasants’ revolt in 1381 never had. And thus blockchain technologies – which could well be that tool – have the potential for a new revolt, and one that can be won.

 

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Jimmy Lee Shreeve View All →

Author and journalist

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