Every once in a while time makes a bump and, just like a kid jumping to see what’s over the neighbor’s fence, we get a glimpse of new horizons. Call it innovation, call it disruption, or simply call it cyclic progress. Blockchain – and the entire craze ignited by it – is one of these bumps.
Started much as a technological advance (and not even a spectacular one, given the base tech stacks, namely p2p communication and cryptography, were around for more than 20 years) it evolved into a social phenomenon.
Never before the word “tech” wasn’t so often used along the word “governance”.
Never before the impact on social status wasn’t so fast and so profound (raise your hand if you didn’t read about a “15 year old kid turned millionaire overnight by buying Bitcoin”).
Never before “the code” wasn’t used as a guarantee that something “should be bound to happen”. And yet, the blockchain promise is fundamentally that all the data is immutably written in an ubiquitous place called “the distributed ledger”.
From this place, many blockchain actors shifted the point of view towards more pressuring issues, like how we, people, get along with each other in our daily lives. Governance, or the process of collectively move in an organized way towards a common goal, is at the core of each blockchain and it’s based on protocols accepted by all players, being it Proof of Work, Proof of Stake, Byzantine Fault Tolerance, or whatever.
But this governance is also the most slippery road that one can engage in.
Governance is based on trust. We can function as people because we are trusting each other, each and every second, for a variety of tasks:
- we trust the bus driver to arrive on time
- we trust our Starbucks latte to have milk
- we trust our partner not to cheat us
- we trust our employer to pay os un time
- we trust our friends to listen when we have something to say
- we trust our food to not be poisonous
- we trust our doctor to improve our health
We even trust our Universe to give us day and night on a regular basis. Everything is trust.
And so, the blockchain tokenizes trust. It chops it in smaller bites (blocks), makes it verifiable, transparent, always available and immutable.
But does this makes blockchain a good tool for governance?
I would argue that not.
And the reason blockchain is not suitable for that is precisely its most precious characteristic: immutability.
We, people, change. Often.
The blockchain doesn’t. Whatever you write there, it will stay there, forever.
We, people have different goals, at different stages in our lives. When I was a kid, one of my goals was to have a remote control toy car. When I grew up, one of my goals was to have a real four wheeler. Later on, I’m sure my goals will change as well.
I think we’re too carried away with the promise of a life in which our trust, tokenized and immutably saved in places no one controls (but everybody has control over it) is used to just validate transactions. And nothing more.
But before any transaction there’s so much more. Before buying a Starbucks latte I have to really want it. I don’t always want the same type of latte. Once I set my mind on a specific type of latte, yes, I trust the Starbucks barista to make it exactly as I asked. That’s the transaction.
But making my mind on a certain type of latte – and deciding that I want it now – is so, so different.
We do need the blockchain to validate the transactions we’re willing to engage in, once we made the decision to engage in them.
But I don’t think we need blockchain to tell us how to organize ourselves, what we want, what we don’t want, what is good for us an what is not.
Humans will be defined, even in an era where robots will take over everything we now call “jobs”, by something that no other automaton can have: emotions.
And there’s no place for emotions in signing a transaction on the blockchain.