BLOCKCHAIN IN REAL LIFE…for regular peopleBy Abraham Phillips, Allie Liu, Isabella Maudsley, Tamara Turchetta
What are you passionate about? Don’t worry, we’re not about to ask you what you want to be when you grow up. What activity makes you feel excited, at ease, or truly yourself? Chances are, the way you do what you love is going to be revolutionized by blockchain technology, and probably sooner than you think.
When we hear the word ‘blockchain’, we usually think of an inaccessible and confusing world of tech terms that we can’t relate to. Unfortunately, the general population isn’t given much information about blockchain beyond the world of coin-trading. What we don’t often hear is how blockchain technology will be making new things possible for artists, gamers, doctors, musicians, athletes, social activists… you name it. So, how does this all happen?
Well, blockchain is really just a sequential chain of information that is unchangeable and has been verified. In simpler terms, it’s a secure ledger. This may seem more than a bit strange: ledgers have been around forever. How would something so antiquated and already known change my life? Well it’s a ledger with a twist — It’s a ledger that can allow for accurate and secure input and recording of information (around money or whatever is involved in the transaction) between parties who don’t even know each other, located anywhere; and this can happen directly with no third party intermediary — like your bank, or Ebay, or Paypal, or… — meaning no fee-grabbing or potential for personal-information-hijacking! It’s based on peer-to-peer transactions — meaning securely recording whatever is supposed to have happened between the parties in the transaction directly without some central authority… so it is “decentralized”. Although this secure decentralized ledger can be (and already has been) used with other things besides money, the most well-known application of blockchain is cryptocurrency.
Cryptocurrency (meaning the 1000’s of coins/tokens on exchanges, not just Bitcoin) is just one particular application of blockchain, just as email is one particular application of the internet. And just as it is true, but limiting, to suggest that the Internet is simply the place to use and access email, it is true but limiting to suggest that blockchain is simply about Cryptocurrency. Let’s bring to light some of those other things that blockchain ledgers can be used for.
Art and Music:
Artists today are able to share their work to huge audiences online, which is great for their exposure. But, exposure doesn’t pay rent. Nowadays, lots of artists aren’t getting compensated fairly for their work, partly because of how rampant online art and music theft is. But, what if each piece you uploaded was guaranteed to always be credited, and couldn’t be resold without your permission? What if you didn’t have to rely on any ‘middle-man’ platforms to earn money for your work, and could be paid fully as the creator?
This is where blockchain comes in. You could upload a digital drawing, song, video, tweet, or even a meme to the blockchain, and from that point on, you will be compensated fairly for however it is used. The system, though, isn’t perfect, and there have been incidents of scammers uploading other peoples’ works to the blockchain1 to claim the profits for themselves. Additionally, the most popular blockchain platforms used right now have the information about transactions (blocks) validated by a process that requires lots of energy consumption and are thus not very eco-friendly2. But, once theft-detection becomes more efficient, and the more eco-friendly validation processes that have been developed are adopted by more blockchain technologies3, artists and creators could be empowered in a way we’ve never seen before.
Think of how independent musicians could benefit from being compensated directly by their listeners, fully for their work, without music platforms and labels taking off a percentage from every dollar earned4. Even as the consumer, there are benefits. Concert-ticket scalping could be eliminated by inputting ticket data as a designated purchase price, determined by and paid to the creator…making live music more affordable and accessible to fans (who can get tickets before they are gone!)5.
Digital media of the 21st century has redefined how we communicate. The images, sounds, and abbreviated text of social media shape our perspectives and how we interact with the world. It’s regarded as a necessary tool both for business and personal interaction; though certainly in its current application, social media can be addictive, and often feeds us information that only confirms our pre-existing beliefs. Blockchain could break these information-bubbles and encourage more productive discourse online.
Steemit is a social media platform that uses blockchain both to validate posts and comments and reward contributors for input. The platform has been around since 2016 and rewards users with cryptocurrency (Steem Dollars), which can be easily traded for Bitcoin or another exchange traded cryptocurrency and then converted to a “fiat” (national) currency of choice6. “Many traditional social media companies have made lots of money through the content produced by their users. However, what sets Steem apart is the support it offers to its users by rewarding them for their valuable input to the platform.”7 Its main premise is to serve the community and ensure that those who provide value are rewarded. The implications of rewarding value in content, comment, or validation in social media go beyond individual payment. We are living in polarizing times, and the internet isn’t often the best platform to engage in productive discussions, as it doesn’t always reward nuance, and can become bogged-down in hateful speech. The idea of rewarding valuable content from varying perspectives could enhance our democracy by encouraging productive discourse between opposing viewpoints.
Control of Personal Data:
Blockchain also provides the opportunity for you to take control of your own data. Incidents like the twitter hack in July 2020 where the twitter accounts of various highly prominent and influential people ( Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Joe Biden among others)8 and the infamous LinkedIn data dump in 2016 which exposed email/password combinations of approximately 117 million people all highlight the importance of data privacy9. Blockchain could help address a range of problems associated with data privacy. For starters, the ledger system would mean that there would be no central company or sole authority controlling or selling your data and making decisions based on their interests.
Blockchain could also help revolutionize digital identities by aiding in keeping data secure with the aid of “identification systems [that] are secure, irrefutable, unique and pretty much impossible for an outside source to gain access to without the proper authorization”10. Blockchain could help do things such as aid homeless citizens by securely identifying them without a physical copy of an ID which can be lost, tampered with or stolen11.
Furthermore, it could also help refugees. According to the head of the U.N Women’s humanitarian unit, Caroline Rusten,” blockchain could be used to create a secure, paperless record of skills and education that refugees can carry with them, to which information can be added as they are on the move, [allowing] people to be appreciated for who they are and the qualifications they have and not just (be) seen as refugees”12.
Blockchain could also encourage greater participation in voting as it has the potential to create voting systems that preserve anonymity, while also allowing for auditing to prevent record tampering. This would essentially mean that people would potentially be able to vote from their phones securely, eliminating (or significantly reducing) obstacles around their vote remaining anonymous that could have previously deterred eligible voters from participating13.
We’ve all heard of incidents in which an athlete was caught doping, or in which an athlete was falsely accused of it. Just earlier in 2021, Shelby Houlihan’s testing positive for nandrolone gave rise to extremely controversial discussions on social media, with many disagreeing with her Olympics ban14. Blockchain is one way to make medical records that have to do with these tests in the sports industry more accessible and transparent15. Because of its unchangeable and transparent nature, blockchain is the ideal solution for verifying certain information as well as making appropriate and relevant information publicly available. This would increase the reliability of player stats and testing records16, with information being accurate and accessible for the general public or for appropriate parties, using either private or public blockchains. This applies to the entire healthcare industry, where current methods of recording and sharing patient information are unreliable and insecure. By using private blockchains, medical records could be shared between multiple practitioners to verify the information, which could greatly reduce misdiagnosis and medical malpractice.17
We’ve been talking about how one of blockchain’s biggest strengths is that it ‘decentralizes’ systems. Climate change is yet another subject in which this strength of blockchain comes into play. Blockchain can create decentralized markets for clean energy… meaning a market in which a store of energy can be traded with neighbors, empowering people to produce and store their own renewable energy18. Blockchain is essentially the only way to enable energy trading among people, and therefore a great way to incentivize renewable energy options among individuals in a community.
Beyond individuals and the community, because of its transparency, blockchain can make for accurate, transparent tracking in the reporting of carbon emissions and for accounting for any corporate initiatives contributing to reducing them. This could come into play with the Paris Agreement, for example, which requires this kind of verification and transparency. Countries and organizations would be held responsible for inputting accurate information about their actions to limit/reverse climate change–meaning two countries wouldn’t be able to take the responsibility for one action19. Blockchain is an inherently clear, chronologically validated record of all initiatives completed.
The above are just a few examples within a few industries where it’s easy to see how blockchain can be applied and the difference it can make. Many blockchains are set up to DO something — address an issue of some sort. But there are ones that are set up to essentially ‘do nothing’, too. Either way, all blockchains are ‘powered by’ tokens (crypto-coins). Tokens are valued, and can be viewed, a bit like traditional stocks in that they can be bought and sold and traded. And, again like traditional stock, their value is determined by the number of people who buy and sell them at any given time.
Just a bit about Cryptocurrency:
Given this, the cryptocurrency associated with any particular blockchain can be used as a new tool to grow your own financial investments. You can purchase coins associated with specific blockchains to invest in your belief in their technologies powering the future (or present), or you could simply purchase them as an investment in your belief about the popularity of the tokens themselves. It’s a bit like the stock market: similar to making investments based on how well you think a business will perform, you can invest in how well you think a technology will perform/be adopted… OR similar to investing in popular stocks that seem to be holding value over time, you can invest in crypto-coins based on their performance over time as well20.
Although investing in cryptocurrency may be generally regarded as a riskier form of investing, it is most definitely already disrupting the world of investing and financial tech21. Learning about it and your options in it doesn’t have to be threatening or scary. Organizations like CryptoChicks22 provide free and extremely low cost educational resources and programs to teach blockchain tech skills and financial literacy to people, especially focusing on women and youth — those who are currently underrepresented in the tech world. Their goal is to help people to take advantage of the potential of blockchain and how it can build wealth and careers.
In the End:
So, with all of these incredible applications, why aren’t we being taught about blockchain in school? Why can I sign up for a crash course on coding, but not on blockchain development? There is no clear answer to these questions, just as there’s no clear answer as to why all high school students aren’t being taught how to do their taxes. Unfortunately, blockchain technology has been pigeon-holed by many educators as just a means to trade Cryptocoins, which doesn’t seem as relevant to students’ futures.
It might be up to us as students to demand our educators to teach us the relevant skills that could define our future careers. In a way, we’re in a similar place to where the last generations were when the Internet was first invented, and as we know now, if you weren’t able to adapt to the world wide web, you were left in the dust… Hopefully, the more students and more that they learn about blockchain, the more we can push for better access to workshops and curriculums that will foster our success when we adapt to this new tech. Not only for the sake of our future careers, but also so that we can all have a voice when the world decides what a future running on blockchain will look like.
1 https://www.coindesk.com/stop-tokenizing-art-you-dont-own ; https://www.theverge.com/2021/3/20/22334527/nft-scams-artists-opensea-rarible-marble-cards-fraud-art
“Blockchain Social Media – Towards User-Controlled Data.” LeewayHertz, 22 Sept. 2021, www.leewayhertz.com/blockchain-social-media-platforms/.
“Blockchain Use Cases in the Sports and ESports Industry.” Ivan on Tech Academy, 12 Mar. 2021, academy.ivanontech.com/blog/blockchain-use-cases-in-the-sports-and-esports-industry.
“Blockchain, AI, Programming, Cryptocurrency, Blockchain Business for Women and Youth.” CryptoChicks, 14 Sept. 2021, cryptochicks.ca/.
“Bringing Blockchain to High School Students.” BRINGING BLOCKCHAIN TO HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS, SIMBA CHAIN, blog.simbachain.com/blog/bringing-blockchain-to-high-school-students.
“Digital Identity And Voting Redefined With Blockchain Technology.” Blockchain Magazine, 11 Jan. 2018, blockchainmagazine.net/digital-identity-voting-redefined-blockchain-technology/.
“Here’s How to Protect Your Art If Someone Makes It an NFT – CoinDesk.” CoinDesk Latest Headlines RSS, 17 Mar. 2021, www.coindesk.com/stop-tokenizing-art-you-dont-own.
Humenansky, Justine CFA. “The Impact of Digital Identity.” Medium, Blockchain at Berkeley, 16 Aug. 2019, medium.com/blockchain-at-berkeley/the-impact-of-digital-identity-9eed5b0c3016.
Stephen, Bijan. “NFT Mania Is Here, and so Are the Scammers.” The Verge, The Verge, 20 Mar. 2021, www.theverge.com/2021/3/20/22334527/nft-scams-artists-opensea-rarible-marble-cards-fraud-art.