November 27, 2019
“Talk is cheap,” Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, once said. “Show me the code.”
Most days, we say that, too.
But some days, talk matters. The story matters. Today is one of those days.
Today, you’ll probably find yourself around people who have not heard of blockchain technology, or are confused by it. Some of them might know the jargon, but get it mixed up. Some of them might only be familiar with the other “B” word—Bitcoin. Some of them might be skeptics, which is healthy. They’ll put your storytelling to the test.
Most of us fell down the blockchain rabbit hole because at some point someone we trust told us a good story about the past and future of the Internet. Today you might have the opportunity to tell that story to someone else.
What is a good story?
You know what it feels like, at least. A good story is one you’ll look up from your phone or plate for, pivot your chair for, stay up late to read. You’ll feel it in your brainstem. There’s a story here.
A good story activates that three hundred thousand year old wiring which wonders, as Lisa Cron writes, “What am I going to learn here that will help me not only survive, but prosper?”
A good story has a character and a conflict that places them under pressure. The choice the character makes under pressure reveals their true character.
The character: you, me, everybody. The conflict: what you thought was yours is not. Your data. Your money. Your code. Your Internet. Your world. The choice: whether you shake off the numbing comfort of digital life today and take the Internet back.
If you make one thing clear today, make it clear that we have a choice.
Think about where you want your story to begin. Maybe not with hashes or blocks. Maybe with a curious email that landed in your inbox. A security alert. Your bank wants to issue you a new card again, for the third month in a row. Another bashful email from a corporation about a breach asking you to change your password and keep your information safe. But you thought your information was safe.
Here’s an exercise: see how long you can go without using the word “blockchain.” Sapiens, for example, is an excellent story about blockchain but it doesn’t use the word “blockchain” once.
Blockchain is just a way to talk about what we really should be talking about.
Talk about blockchain so you can talk about trust.
The general absence of it. In banks. In supply chains. In healthcare. In governments. In journalism. In social media. In systems. In people.
Talk about breaches of trust. The 3 billion Yahoo accounts. The 500 million customers of Marriott International. The 200 million consumers monitored by Equifax.
Talk about your data, and what’s happening to it. Talk about how Facebook uses your data. How apps use your location data. About the woman whose digital life was weaponized against her. Talk about your data like you would your health, your job, your love life, because it is all those things.
Talk about blockchain so you can talk about money.
Talk about money so you can talk about how your money moves. And who handles it. Front-end processors. Acquiring banks. Card associations. Issuing banks. Payment processors. Clearinghouses. Each of them siphoning off fees, each of them susceptible to those big breaches of trust.
Talk about money so you go down that weird, inevitable wormhole about what money is in the first place. Talk about this quote from Sapiens, the book about blockchain that never uses the word “blockchain”:
“Why do I believe in the cowry shell or gold coin or dollar bill? Because my neighbours believe in them. And my neighbours believe in them because I believe in them … Money is anything that people are willing to use in order to represent systematically the value of other things for exchanging goods and services.”
Anything that people are willing to use.
Talk about what people are using for money these days. Talk about cryptocurrency. Talk about the first bitcoin transaction. Two pizzas for 10,000 bitcoin. Talk about ether, the native currency of Ethereum. Talk about how ether isn’t just money—it’s fuel.
Talk about Libra, Facebook’s digital currency. Talk about how hands-off you really think Facebook will be, considering their track record.
Talk about blockchain so you can talk about infrastructure.
Talk about financial infrastructure. Talk about the hackers who planted malware in our global banking system and got away with a billion bucks.
Talk about cloud infrastructure. Talk about the 75-year-old Georgian woman who switched off Armenia’s Internet with her shovel.
Talk about Jeff Bezos’s masterplan. About how AWS controls 40% of ecommerce in the US and 42% of paper book sales and more product searches than Google and almost half of the cloud-computing industry and how even the most benevolent billionaire shouldn’t have that kind of power.
Talk about Bezos’s graduation speech about cleverness and kindness and gifts and choices and breathe a temporary sigh of relief.
Talk about identity infrastructure. Talk about log-in fatigue, or how you’re so used to resetting your password you don’t even feel it anymore. Talk about third-party authenticators and how you can log in to most apps through Facebook, Google, and Twitter and how that convenience comes at a price.
Talk about blockchain so you can talk about decentralization.
Talk about the Internet’s original network design and distributed nodes and peer-to-peer timestamping but don’t use any of those words. Talk about passing the potatoes, and how it’d make more sense for Uncle Gary to directly pass the potatoes to you across the table rather than passing them down to Aunt Diane and Uncle Jimmy and Gary’s neighbor (what’s his name again?) and your two-year-old niece who can barely lift her own silverware. Talk about decentralized potatoes so you can talk about decentralized finance.
Talk about decentralization so you can talk about connection, about the strength of weak ties.
Talk about decentralization so you can offer some clarity around all the different webs: the World Wide Web and the Deep Web and the Dark Web and Web1, Web2, Web3. Talk about how a blockchain isn’t just another app on the Internet but a base layer of the Internet. A trust layer. A settlement layer. Whatever you want to call it. Just make sure it’s decentralized.
Talk about blockchain so you can talk about truth.
About a single source of truth. The truth about a payment. About a pharmaceutical. About a piece of food. About a piece of content. Talk about the Great Thanksgiving Cranberry Scare of 1959 and how food handling can be verifiable now. Talk about how most of the Internet today is untrue—the metrics, the businesses, the content, the people—yet we still have a choice.
Talk about truth disappearing. Talk about memory holes. How things disappear, as if by design, from our collective memory. Talk about Twitter’s purge. Talk about the valence and velocity of content—clickbait words at unfact-checked speed to get more eyeballs to sell more ads. Talk about how much time a website has to capture someone’s attention, let alone tell the truth. Less than 15 seconds.
Talk about the long-term thinkers. Talk about how stories last. Talk about permanence. Talk about the unsung heroes behind the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine and the InterPlanetary File System. Gives thanks for the nodes.
Talk about blockchain so you can talk about Satoshi.
Satoshi Nakamoto. One of the great origin stories of our time. A name, some open source code, and a request: “If you can keep a node running that accepts incoming connections, you’ll really be helping the network a lot.”
Talk about Satoshi so you can talk about open source developers. Talk about how software ate the world and then a handful of tech companies ate the software and now the developers are taking the software, and for that matter the Internet, back.
Talk about Satoshi so you can talk about all the Satoshis. Everyone who gives back to the Internet. The power users. The Wikipedia contributors. The Amazon reviewers. The Stack Overflow contributors. Talk about the 1% rule of the Internet: how 1% of us create and 99% of us lurk.
Talk about the need to recognize and reward these Satoshis. Talk about how cryptoeconomics is the key and how a bunch of people have already figured that out. Talk about quadratic voting and inflation funding and radical markets. Give thanks for Satoshi, and all the Satoshis.
Talk about blockchain so you can talk about innovation.
Talk about the timeline of innovation. How the story of blockchain started long before Vitalik and Satoshi, with Nick Szabo and Wei Dai and Adam Back and the Cypherpunks and Tim Berners-Lee and David Chaum and William Gibson and Alan Turing and Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage and George Boole and the list goes on.
Talk about the staples of innovation. Risk. Timing. Technical resistance. Human resistance. Talk about Thanksgiving innovation. Remember Turducken? A chicken inside of a duck inside of a turkey. Talk about positive failure.
Talk about blockchain adoption. Talk about how enterprises are following the developers. Talk about which governments are using blockchain right now. Talk about real-world innovation. Talk about industries we can trust.
Talk about blockchain so you can talk about a better Internet.
Talk about the origins of the Internet. How it got out of hand and how we can reclaim it. Talk about the first time you touched the Internet and how you fell in and out of love. Talk about blockchain so you can listen to others’ Internet love stories, too.
Talk about the good parts of the Internet. Give thanks for the Internet. Talk about watching a son and his mom reunite after 10 years. How you got to be there for that moment, too. How all we’re trying to do is stay connected, despite ourselves and our systems.
Talk about blockchain so that one day, we won’t have to talk about blockchain anymore, and the Internet will be ours again.