Thoughts on a game of thrones played out in a house of cards

Summer 2014

The theme of this latest dash is, if you haven't worked it out by now, progress. The nature of progress. How do we measure progress? How do we know if we are making the right progress? Are we progressing in the right direction? Indeed, are we progressing at all?

For example. Take the new Yellow Pages (Think: Google). The old was a list, as is the new. But each in their own way a very different type of list. Gaming the old Yellow Pages was a question of size. Biggest Ad won. But everybody who wanted to be, or could at least afford to be, was on the list. When it came to finding a plumber you were in with a chance. However small. With the new list only the fittest survive. Digital Darwinism expressed as a list. Not everybody makes the list and if you are not on the list you are not in with a chance. The game of lists has changed. As has the art and science of gaming the list. We have progressed but somehow to a less equitable place.

And to challenge this paradigm new lists emerge. Seemingly the unscaled heights of this new era of innovation revolves around the question is the new White (Think: Facebook) the new Yellow? The dynamics of the list stay the same. It's just that the plumber has a choice of lists to expend his promotional dollar. We have moved from the battle of the "book of lists" to the battle of the "list engines". The database for... whatever it is you are looking for in life.

This then is the sum of our progress. And yes it has come at a price. We have, as they say, been disrupted.

All of which provides the context of this post. Bitcoin as a measure of our ideas about progress.

We'll begin with a bit contextual analysis. The piece in question? Marc Andreessen's NY Times Op Ed - Why Bitcoin Matters.

This chart maps the frequency of 40 keywords repeated throughout the text. Words commonly used in Banking and Finance are in blue. The red indicates the language preferences of the technologist.

The question at hand? Are we talking about a new way of banking, a new technology or simply a case of eloquent product placement?

What do you think? Other than the simple observation that frequency also matters. Promotion is nothing if not a matter of repeating messages.

For the record the split across the Top 40 Words is 51%/49% in favour of Banking and Finance. Across the Top 10 however the split is 63%/37% in favour of the Technologist. Marginally lower if you dispute the word "Value" as attributable purely to the Technologist.

Remove the product promotion of the text and we discover the split is 67%/33% in favour of Banking and Finance.

Food for thought... if only in understanding the construction of the narrative.

Now, rather than deconstruct the whole text in detail, I am going to point you towards two other pieces sources Glenn Fleishman's On the Matter of Why Bitcoin Matters and QUENTIN HARDY's Bitcoin and the Fictions of Money.

Meanwhile I'll continue to explore Bitcoin as a measure of our ideas about progress by virtue of a simple experiment. Admitted lazy. But entertaining nonetheless. A bit of word substitution in the original text.

Let's see what happens when the word Bitcoin becomes the word TRUST and the words Internet and Network become Community. The user, now a member. Distributed now simply shared. Programmers are Psychologists and products and solutions become behaviours and habits. When technology becomes meaning. The ledger our relationship.

Just what happens when we substitute our ideas about technology and replace them with some of our ideas about relationships?

The opening stanza...

"Why Trust Matters

A mysterious new meaning emerges, seemingly out of nowhere, but actually the result of two decades of intense research and development by nearly anonymous researchers. Political idealists project visions of liberation and revolution onto it; establishment elites heap contempt and scorn on it.

On the other hand, psychologists – nerds – are transfixed by it. They see within it enormous potential and spend their nights and weekends tinkering with it.

Eventually mainstream products, companies and industries emerge to commercialize it; its effects become profound; and later, many people wonder why its powerful promise wasn’t more obvious from the start.

What meaning am I talking about? Personal psychology in 1975, the Community in 1993, and – I believe – Trust in 2014

One can hardly accuse Trust of being an uncovered topic, yet the gulf between what the press and many regular people believe Trust is, and what a growing critical mass of psychologists believe Trust is, remains enormous. In this post, I will explain why Trust has so many Silicon Valley psychologists and entrepreneurs all lathered up, and what I think Trust’s future potential is."

Do you see the picture that is emerging? Let's try another section.

"How does this work?

Trust is a community wide shared relationship....The Trusted relationship is a new kind of payment system. Anyone in the world can pay anyone else in the world any amount of value of Trust by simply transferring ownership of the corresponding slot in the relationship. Put value in, transfer it, the recipient gets value out, no authorization required, and in many cases, no fees.

That last part is enormously important. Trust is the first community wide payment system where transactions either happen with no fees or very low fees (down to fractions of pennies)."

and, how about this one?

"What’s the future of Trust?

Trust is a classic community effect, a positive feedback loop. The more people who use Trust, the more valuable Trust is for everyone who uses it, and the higher the incentive for the next member to start using the meaning. Trust shares this community effect property with the telephone system, the web, and popular Community services like eBay and Facebook.

In fact, Trust is a four-sided community effect. There are four constituencies that participate in expanding the value of Trust as a consequence of their own self-interested participation. Those constituencies are (1) consumers who pay with Trust, (2) merchants who accept Trust, (3) “lawmakers” who run the courts that process and validate all the transactions and enable the distributed trust community to exist, and (4) psychologists and entrepreneurs who are building new behaviours and habits with and on top of Trust.

For this reason alone, new challengers to Trust face a hard uphill battle. If something is to displace Trust now, it will have to have sizable improvements and it will have to happen quickly. Otherwise, this community effect will carry Trust to dominance.

Moreover, Trust generally can be a powerful force to bring a much larger number of people around the world into the modern economic system."

And, let's finish up with this

"I hope that I have given you a sense of the enormous promise of Trust. Far from a mere libertarian fairy tale or a simple Silicon Valley exercise in hype, Trust offers a sweeping vista of opportunity to reimagine how the financial system can and should work in the community era, and a catalyst to reshape that system in ways that are more powerful for individuals and businesses alike."

Which is all very nice but in the end who needs a post or an essay or an article to bring this message home when a simple tweet would have sufficed?

"Trust me, because this changes everything."

Which is to say the text needs no further analysis or criticism. Simply because it is, in so many ways, a micro self-critic of the American condition today. Our, or should I say their, ideas about relationships and technology are interchangeable. You could call it relatology or technolation but, either way, at its heart is a love for soft innovation.

Bitcoin may, or may not, be the currency of tomorrow but it is a clear measure of our ideas about progress today.

Given the choice between hard innovation. Innovation that bleeds. Innovation that cuts the future with an edge. Innovation that breaks through. Setting fire to all our platforms and life boats. We much prefer our innovation soft and cuddly. Low impact and full of promise, of good things for all who are willing to share, tomorrow, with us.

So tell me how do you feel about that and why is it we can't we all be friends?

For it is the "Summer of Love" remixed through this abundance of technolation. Less Beatles, More Bits n' Lists. Sustained by our addiction to these ubiquitous slabs of glass.

Tell me if you think I'm wrong...

At least until next time... ;-)

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