It’s easy for a Millennial to become jaded in the current American economy. One that nearly bankrupts many of us for our education, that we have always been told is needed to ‘get a job.’ I’ll try to avoid politics as much as possible here, but I figure we should get acquainted, so the other generations can stop blaming us for avocado consumption. We are what you made us, we work where you left us jobs, and we’re not fooled by your politics anymore.
In a lofted flat east of the University of Nebraska city campus in Lincoln, NE I found myself face to face with an idea I had already heard of but had no inkling of its value to me, and many others like me. The one thing that made it more than just an idea was the fact that Bitcoin has been using the technology in a practical sense since around 2008. It works. We already know that. It’s not perfect, but the potential comes from the fact that the technology creates an ‘antifragile’ economic infrastructure. The company in Lincoln that I have sort of become a part of is called Embermine, which runs a news site/blog network called TokenVerse. In order to describe their mission, I need to first gloss over this mysterious new technology. To understand what the hell this has to do with a jaded Millennial’s student loans and political views we must take this journey into the world of blockchain and cryptocurrencies one step at a time.
Blockchain technology can most easily be described as the most sophisticated business ledger ever created, which makes it by nature a database. Now, in a nut, cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are “fuel” that power transactions. Blockchains are ecosystems, a tree if you will, that support many branches of interconnected businesses, services, artists, writers, coders, servers; essentially everything on the internet or supported by it (Internet of Things or IoT). The ecosystem is both supported by and governed by the network, and the mitochondria that power all this digital life are cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency. The Embermine platform will have its own cryptocurrency called Sparks in the near future, a transactional unit of value on the platform. The only thing required for cryptocurrencies to be given value seems to be participation in the network.
The term ‘antifragile’ was coined by a writer I became acquainted with in a bookstore in the Albuquerque International Sunport in 2012. Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes ‘antifragility’ in his book, Antifragile: Things That Benefit from Disorder, as a universally applicable term to describe the natural tendency of all things to adapt in a way that make them better equipped to handle adversity or stress. A bone that heals properly becomes stronger than before; Japanese Kintsugi ceramics may be stronger after repair than before (and more beautiful.) The Blacker the Berry the Sweeter the Juice. In blockchain, the more people who use the network, the more secure and decentralized that network becomes. It’s literally a sweeping answer to political oppression, financial fraud, corporate greed, and government inefficiencies rolled into an ever-changing and evolving system of interconnected people and data.
So, back to the mysterious change that allegedly has the firepower to blow off even the heaviest toupee off the bald head of a capitalist with a Machiavellian attitude. Scriptures say it rests somewhere between Artificial Intelligence and blockchain technology. I imagine sometime in the distant future these two sides of the technological coin will become inextricably linked, but we have enough sci-fi technology to deal with here, like I said, one step at a time.
I have had an idea of myself as a writer for some time, yet I have published almost no work. I have fancied myself politically aware, yet I have participated in no activism. About a week ago I stumbled on an opportunity to satisfy both of these ideas of myself. The more I learned about blockchain technology, it’s history, and the capabilities that it is already starting to realize, the more I became excited about it. I’m no techy. I write, and even this age-old profession could be affected by this technology poised to change the world of freelance writing, editing, collaboration and most importantly payment.
So what does TokenVerse have to do with Embermine? What about Bitcoin, wasn’t that the big thing? Yes. It’s all in the same camp in a buzzing corner of the internet, and we’re not sure what it’s capable of yet. In a nut, TokenVerse is the beginning of a media netowork for the blockchain space that will eventually include content of all digital disciplines. Ideally, the more writers, analysts, videographers, photographers, or content creators, that means more websites that contribute to TokenVerse can help grow the entire network. A self-sustaining network of creators who share clicks by referencing the other ‘blocks’ or creators in the chain.
Open, or public blockchains, are fueled by crypto-currencies to prevent double-spending, as opposed to private or permissioned chains that essentially use our current administrative structure to centralize the blockchain to one person or group. Open blockchains have the potential to eliminate administrative third parties in transactions and provide complete transparency to entire networks of people all over the world. We buy and sell peer-to-peer, with no middlemen, and the rules are written in pieces of code called smart contracts which act as programmed agreements. Pure democracy with a capitalist twist. Like Pirate Bay except content creators get paid. With internet, everyone has access to transact with one another and buy and sell all manner of things, including intellectual property. Transactions will be stored securely by a sophisticated and automatic, self-correcting sort of crowdsourced security. With great power comes great responsibility, and blockchain’s power comes from the collective. Everyone has completely transparent access to a public blockchain, yet it is completely anonymous. Collusion is impossible with a well-designed protocol, which limits corruption. Privacy and transparency are king, which limits fraud.
The ancient Silk Road that traded goods between the Far East and the Mediterranean wasn’t one continuous road but a network connected by powerful merchants that ruled over their respective turf. Centralized nodes, if you will. During the American Revolution, General Washington struggled with military intel. There were snakes in the grass and the only way to find and verify military intel on the British was a network called the Culper Spy Ring. The internet was a network from the beginning and the crowdsourcing that has been birthed from it the same. At the forefront of the sentiment that gave rise to crowdsourcing is blockchain and crypto-currency technology. An idea cannot be killed, it seems, and the world will only continue to become interconnected and tangled, for good or ill.
I truly believe this is something that could level the playing field and provide equal access to the economy for anyone with an internet connection (future speak, of course). Where Embermine will fall in this whole new world remains to be seen, but they have given me a desk and a place to work, which is enough for me. After all, isn’t the pursuit of money what got us into the centralized and unequal predicament anyway? Whatever happens, for the foreseeable future I’ll be writing on this exciting new technology from my novice perspective on my trusty Dell computer from 2007, which can participate in blockchain driven sites despite being older than the idea or technology itself.
The technology is so new that both corporate and other centralized powers are competing with small teams and individuals all over the world. Never before has technology enabled individuals with the know-how to undercut entire industries, except for, you know, its predecessor: the Worldwide Web. However, with new technology, especially as complex as this one, we have run full circle back into the Steve Jobs Problem, getting people to understand it, how to use it, and not to fear it. Be wary of the boogieman, he only preys on the scaredy-cats. “Do not go gentle into that good night.”
Poets who draw influence from Dylan Thomas could even find incentive to not only get their material posted online but get paid for it, and I hope we can all have access to such ease of exposure. Getting noticed is half the battle. This is where our conversation really begins. We may now have a way to share, completely and anonymously with anyone, anywhere, with no middlemen. Either way Grandma is going to want to know what the hell is going on. You’re the future young Padawan, so you must tell her, which means you must learn. Steve Jobs’ biggest fight was with educating people on how to use the technology of the future. Let your schooling never end and may the Force be with you. Let’s strike a more honest balance of power.
A memo from the Millennial Desk,