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The decentralization movement has a messaging and UX problem

I own zero crypto or digital assets. I have no horse in the race – not because I don’t believe they’re important, or part of the future of finance, or a technology that we may use every single day at some point in the not too distant future.

I simply just buy passive broad-market ETFs. I’ve handcuffed myself to that strategy (but that’s another post for another day).

But I am trying to learn more about the crypto/NFT/digital asset space. I am finding I have a lot more questions than answers as I go through it. I’m a lot more positive on a lot of parts of the space, while I’m a lot more negative about other elements.

There’s a user-friendly design flaw across the decentralized space

I apologize for using “user-friendly.” It’s a term that has been bashed in the ground as everyone and everything tries to copy the iPhone – one of the most complex machines ever invented, yet so intuitive that it doesn’t require ANY instruction manual.

Advocates of crypto and NFTs and blockchain technology think they are sitting on something that has the same power to change the world as the iPhone. I can’t judge whether or not that’s true. But the “blockchain fixes this” meme quickly went from earnest observation to a (fantastic) Twitter joke. Not because blockchain technology can’t solve a lot of problems – it can – but because the current design flaws of the space and the messaging around it are so absurd.

Blockchain

I was recommended a book to read to understand the broader… let’s call it ethos of blockchain.

Amazon link

I think the book fails in a few regards. First, I don’t think it does a very good job of explaining what blockchain really is.

It does an even worse job producing some use cases for blockchain – examples which are fanciful at best and outright blind to any sort of real-world perspective at worst.

Here’s a snippet:

Digital Asset Proof as an Automated Feature In the future, digital asset protection in the form of blockchain registry could be an automatically applied standardized feature of digital asset publication. For certain classes of assets or websites, digital asset protection could be invoked at the moment of publication of any digital content. Some examples could include GitHub commits, blog posts, tweets, Instagram/Twitpic photos, and forum participations. Digital asset protection could be offered just as travel insurance is with airline ticket purchases. At account setup with Twitter, blogging sites, wikis, forums, and GitHub, the user could approve micropayments for digital asset registration (by supplying a Bitcoin wallet address). Cryptocurrency now as the embedded economic layer of the Web provides microcontent with functionality for micropayment and microIPprotection. Cryptocurrency provides the structure for this, whether microcontent is tokenized and batched into blockchain transactions or digital assets are registered themselves with their own blockchain addresses. Blockchain attestation services could also be deployed more extensively not just for IP registry, but more robustly to meet other related needs in the publishing industry, such as rights transfer and content licensing.

Ok, that’s all great! Here are a couple of real-world use cases where an immutable record would be useful and important.

But then it just starts rolling downhill from there:

There could be “personal thinking chains” as a life-logging storage and backup mechanism. The concept is “blockchain technology + in vivo personal connectome” to encode and make useful in a standardized compressed data format all of a person’s thinking. The data could be captured via intracortical recordings, consumer EEGs, brain/computer interfaces, cognitive nanorobots, and other methodologies. Thus, thinking could be instantiated in a blockchain — and really all of an individual’s subjective experience, possibly eventually consciousness, especially if it’s more precisely defined. After they’re on the blockchain, the various components could be administered and transacted — for example, in the case of a post-stroke memory restoration.

And…

As mentioned, in the vein of life logging, there could be personal thinking blockchains to capture and safely encode all of an individual’s mental performance, emotions, and subjective experiences onto the blockchain, at minimum for backup and to pass on to one’s heirs as a historical record. Personal mindfile blockchains could be like a next generation of Fitbit or Apple’s iHealth on the iPhone 6, which now automatically captures 200+ health metrics and sends them to the cloud for data aggregation and imputation into actionable recommendations. Similarly, personal thinking blockchains could be easily and securely recorded (assuming all of the usual privacy concerns with blockchain technology are addressed) and mental performance recommendations made to individuals through services such as Siri or Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, perhaps piped seamlessly through personal brain/computer interfaces and delivered as both conscious and unconscious suggestions.

I don’t know if it’s because this book was published in 2015, at the true peak of technolibertarianism, but I don’t see these kinds of arguments out there in the wild much anymore.

A quick pause to quickly define terms. I’ll use privacy here not as hiding one’s self from others, but removing one’s self from entrenched institutions: businesses, government, etc.

I think that privacy has become the ultimate goal of the decentralization movement. That’s fine, but as we’ve seen with countless examples in the past years (hacks, scams, grifters…), just because you operate on a decentralized platform, that certainly doesn’t mean it’s private. Are we really going to put our minds on the blockchain (ignoring the fact for the moment that that’s nowhere near possible)? Are we really going to log all of our vitals and most important personal data about ourselves and let it live digitally, even if its on the blockchain? The author admits this is science fiction, so why even mention it?

Or better yet, why would blockchain technology even be the best solution for this type of problem?

Bring it back to Steve Jobs and Dieter Rams

One of the first Mac ads said:

Since computers are so smart, wouldn’t it make sense to teach computers about people, instead of teaching people about computers?

And the industrial designer Dieter Rams wrote up 10 principles of good design.

A few key choices? Good design…

  1. makes a product useful
  2. makes a product understandable
  3. is unobtrusive
  4. involves as little design as possible

That’s it. That’s what’s missing with crypto and the broader decentralization movement.

If you want to promote blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies and start NFTing everything, you need to start producing not only reasonable use cases, but better user experiences to achieve it.

Currently cryptos and NFTs are being designed by crypto/NFT advocates for crypto/NFT advocates. There aren’t a lot of people out there putting themselves in the typical consumer’s shoes and making those experiences seamless in our day-to-day lives.

(I’m also not paying a 21% fee to buy etherium, but again, another post for another day)