Bitcoin and beyond

When I mention Bitcoin to anyone I know, their faces contort into an expression somewhere between recognition and fear – knowing what Bitcoin is but afraid to have to try and explain or discuss it. If I ask them about blockchain technology, their expressions become even more muddled and I start to feel like I’m asking them something weird.

Now, most of the people I know don’t spend their mornings reading about Fintech and innovation in the finance sector (myself included), and so it’s hard to blame them. Bitcoin has had some press – a lot of it negative, in the eyes of my friends, due to things like the Silk Road and Mt. Gox – but not many of them realise it’s the blockchain that Bitcoin depends upon to operate.

A quick definition, for those who don’t know:

“A blockchain is essentially an incorruptible ledger of blocks of data, and that data can be just about anything”

So, it’s a way of transferring information about pretty much anything. The first major use for Bitcoin/blockchain technology was for transactions of monetary value but, more recently, other uses have begun to emerge.

It’s telling that the UK government’s chief scientist, Sir Mark Walport, recently published a report recommending the government adopts blockchain technology, stating that it ‘can revolutionise services, both in government and the private sector’.

According to Sir Walport, blockchain technology can potentially be used for issuing passports, delivering benefits, collecting taxes, assuring supply chains and other government records. He also recommends the country’s National Health Service (NHS) adopt blockchain technology to share medical records in a secure fashion.

We’re on the brink of a time where my friends will be using blockchain technology in their everyday lives and will finally be able to relax – but with the technology existing for a number of years now, why has it taken so long for people to understand it?

Jargon busting done wrong

There’s actually quite a lot of information out there about blockchain, for anyone inclined to read articles full of jargon and technical language, but it’s the rest of the world who needs to figure it out… in plain English!

It might be that, right now, the majority of people that are interested in the technology are also dying to know how it works.

But, for the average person, we’re less inclined to understand the wonderful technology which makes our lives easier – I care less about the technology behind transferring money abroad than I do about how easy it is – so why hasn’t anyone taken steps to explain the real-world benefits and applications of this technology?

For all the 101 videos I’ve seen on blockchain, no one has taken time to show me a world in which everyone is using it. No one has inspired me to really advocate its use, other than in the small circles of other people who are interested in it already, and so it’s going to be hard to inspire the masses to use it – particularly with everyone’s natural fears on security and privacy.

‘Ensuring the security of distributed ledgers is an important task and part of the general challenge of ensuring the security of the digital infrastructure on which modern societies now depend,’ Walport writes.

The government of Estonian prime minister, Taavi Rõivas, has already started using blockchain technology by partnering with Bitnation, the decentralised governance project which offers blockchain IDs and Bitcoin debit cards to refugees.

Reframing the question

Perhaps if the message was out there already, with both government and public behind the technology equally, we would be living in a more blockchain-heavy society.

I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, and I’m guessing most of the public don’t either.

Someone needs to reframe the question from ‘how does blockchain work?’ to ‘how will blockchain improve my life?.

Once we have the answer to this question, perhaps we can all just stop talking about blockchain and actually start using it!

About the author

Christiaan Harden

Christiaan Harden

Client Services Director

Christiaan is our client services director, who has been in the industry for over 10 years, starting out as a filmmaker. He’s been at Spectrecom since day one so his company and business knowledge is unmatched.

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