Before the internet really started taking off in the 90s, it was still surrounded by scepticism born from a perception that it didn’t provide much more than a night-time pastime for the socially maladjusted.
There is a similar reductionist tendency, especially in mainstream media, when it comes to blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Sure, there is truth in their depiction as a shortcut to wealth for the financially savvy. Also, it cannot be denied that the development of decentralised ledgers is opening up an array of lucrative opportunities for entrepreneurs.
But beyond that, just like the internet or any other technology for that matter, blockchain taps into much deeper questions that revolve around contemporary socio-cultural processes, how we can go about solving some of the major problems in our societies and the type of world we want to live in.
Whether to gain a sense of purpose as a crypto-enthusiast, optimise the brand narrative as a blockchain start-up or gain some perspective as a blockchain-weary politician: thinking beyond immediate opportunities and solutions and gaining a sense of the larger vision is of great value.
One person who can help with that is Dan Larimer, an early crypto-enthusiast, visionary programmer, creator of BitShares and Graphene, co-founder of Steemit and CTO at BlockOne that developed EOS. Although a lot of his communications are of a technical nature, he also writes extensively at the level of vision.
Born in Colorado and learning the basics of programming from an early age under the tutelage of his father, after completing his undergrad in computer science he was already in the process of engineering a digital currency when he stumbled upon Satoshi’s Bitcoin.
Early conversations between him and the elusive Satoshi, reveal that in 2009 he already foresaw some of the shortcomings of Bitcoin in terms of scalability and micro-transactions: something which has now been generally recognised.
In 2014, Dan created BitShares which is an open-source, blockchain-based, public decentralised exchange (DEX). In the process of fixing some its glitches, he developed a ground breaking blockchain technology called Graphene and released BitShares 2.0 shortly after.
Steemit is another brilliant idea that Dan developed with Ned Scott. Whereas the Bitcoin protocol requires miners to invest heavily in equipment and electricity to solve cryptographic problems, Steemit allows users to generate value through producing relevant content in a social media environment similar to Medium.
Last year, in 2017, Dan Larimer created EOS which is a blockchain-based decentralised operating system to support dApps – it basically provides a deep infrastructure upon which other companies can build their distinct platforms and services.
To gain a proper sense of these achievements, it worth noting that Bitshares, Steemit and EOS currently make up for 80% of all blockchain activity.
Putting blockchain in perspective
Yes, blockchain is about optimising transactions in terms of traceability, reliability, transparency and incorruptibility. It has applications across industries from finance and health to food and diamonds. But in its deepest sense it is about governance.
Whether we talk about democratic governments, financial institutions or tech-companies, the basics of governance have to do with:
how consensus is achieved
the information that steers decisions
the incentives that guide action
and the governing structure itself
While the subject of governance is beyond the scope of this article, we can say that blockchain’s development has vast implications for power-distribution and the prospect of self-governance.
In an interview with Max Wright, Dan explains that he sees blockchain as a peaceful mode of resistance and a way to eventually minimise or free society of violence-backed governments.
Of course, attempts are made to quench its growth, but just as with file sharing (think: Napster), every time restrictions are put in place, new levels of freedom are achieved.
Basically, technological innovation is happening faster than governments concerned with the status-quo can contain.
Few will disagree on the benefits of digitalisation and the increased connectivity that it enables. Connectivity widens horizons, underscores basic human interdependence across borders and it increases efficiency. But no one wants to live in an all-round surveilling super-state that thrives on the threat of violence and mass-manipulation at detriment to privacy and freedom.
Blockchain, by its very design, poses as a powerful defence against such a scenario. It restores anonymity, secures information flows, optimises accountability and calls into question the widespread assumption that society can only work under the threat of violent punitive measures.
What Dan points out in the interview is that while movements such as Occupy may have lofty intentions, their mode of protest is founded in violence and can therefore only breed violence. The blockchain community, however, is merely asking to be left in peace to trade information on its own terms. The fact that this information exchange generates value - or in some cases considerable wealth - is merely a side effect of that freedom, which in turn drives public influence.
Unless governments around the world decide to shut down the internet - which would be an act of violence with horrific consequences to say the least - there is not much that can be done to stop the development of blockchain. And even if the internet were to be shut down, efforts are already being made by organisations such as Mesh Networks to replace the internet if necessary.
Blockchain is about voluntarily choosing freedom over restrictions, while of course basing such freedom on rules that are mutually agreed upon instead of imposed.
In this context, it is clear to see why
Dan Larimer’s self-proclaimed root purpose is to find free market solutions to secure life, liberty and property for all.
Leading with vision
The rise of blockchain goes hand in hand with other developments across societies and industries. Central among these is the drive towards community.
Whether referring to social media groups, localised rooftop farming initiatives or the move towards micro-stores and community building in the retail industry, in an increasingly globalising, anonymising and digitalising world the basic human need for connection and interaction perseveres tenaciously.
How we form and govern communities is an unfinished project and so is social progress at large. How we achieve order in society, conduct transactions, generate and store wealth or relate to property: these are all open questions that need constant revision and adjustment.
Businesses aiming to capitalise on these trends and contribute to transformational change are served by articulating and committing to a clear and ever-expanding vision. This is not only useful to guide decision-making, align behaviour, inspire emotion, spur growth, encourage conversation and enable leadership, but also to cut through the hype cycles that technologies go through from inception to mass adoption.
Such a commitment to vision is clearly evinced by Dan Larimer who, instead of merging his identity with a single technology or product, distinguishes himself by his drive towards finding solutions to move towards a better, more just and free society.