The Blockchain is Hungry: Looking Beyond Software and the Sharing Economy?

Software Is So 2011

In 2011, Marc Andreessen made a claim that still resonates loudly today. He claimed, most notable in a popular Wall Street Journal article, that “software is eating the world.” Since then, software has fulfilled this predictable 2011 prophecy by systematically consuming everything in its path. First slowly, and now very quickly, software is seeping seamlessly into every crack and crevasse of our lives — leading to what we now call the sharing economy.

Some of the biggest companies own almost nothing and employ almost nobody.

How do these companies survive (and thrive) with little/no employee base or physical ownership of any kind? Very simply, with well-written software; crafty code linked to computers making almost any aspect our lives easier and more efficient (ok, this is an oversimplification, but there’s accuracy in the essence).

So what’s next? Do we march forward as software giants continue to infiltrate our lives like capitalistic, well-intentioned cancers spreading amongst cultural cells of the past? Inevitably, the answer is yes. There’s no reason to think that the next Airbnb or Uber are not already well underway. But there’s also a new player in the game; one which has the potential to systematically eat software, in the same way that software is eating the world. What that means for our future is anyone’s guess.

The Blockchain

Here’s where things get interesting. Just as software continues to eat the world, blockchain and decentralization could eat software in similar respects. With the rise of things like Bitcoin, and more importantly for this discussion, Ethereum, we could very well be on the edge of a compounding effect that would make Uber seem like Pong on a mainframe. While blockchain-based technologies are still reliant on software, they allow for a new level of durability, interconnectivity, and most importantly, processing power.

There’s an assumption that this technology is only infiltrating the economic domain (mostly due to the hype of Bitcoin), but the simplicity of Merkel trees and blockchain have quickly blossomed into an entire ecosystem of software-hungry technologies with appetites that will grow exponentially and well beyond finance. Take this less than exhaustive list of software-slayers that have already gained serious traction:

Startups Be Warned

Whether or not you buy into the idea that software is eating the world (by the way, it definitely is), there’s very little downside in trying to better understand our inevitable future (one which is always much different than predicted). Especially among software-based startups, there’s no reason to be unaware of what this movement might mean to your efforts. Too often, we dig our heels into what works comfortably(software) instead of hedging our bets on the hungry and unfamiliar — that’s the blockchain!

You Autocomplete Me

There’s no shortage of new-age criticism regarding where technology is taking us as a culture and species. We’re becoming mindless robots. Technology is robbing us of our humanity. The tangible fabric of society is being incrementally replaced by 1’s and 0’s. And while I understand the very human inclination to fear and resist the unfamiliar, if that’s your view of what technology represents, I’m afraid you’ve got everything backward (at least in my view). Not slightly askew or just left of center, but completely inverted. Technology is not stealing our humanity, it’s finally providing everyone the opportunity to experience a truly unique and authentic version of it.

It’s much too late to reject the wave of information currently curating our experiences. Unless you’re completely off the grid (in which case I’d be very curious to know how you’re reading this) you’re already being served by the algorithmic filters of our modern age, and likely have been for quite some time. And the ironic thing is that those in fear of this filtering the most, are often the ones most in need of the techno-induced backhand that allows them to finally see into their own personal matrix. The minute we open up and allow technology (i.e. our current phenomenological reality) to envelop us, is the moment we begin to truly understand ourselves. It’s just a matter of perspective.

How many of us really know ourselves and know exactly what we want? Few of us get anywhere close to content with our answers to these deeply existential questions, but increasingly (and perhaps unknowingly), we’re erecting the digital scaffolding capable of helping us see through the fog. Technology is becoming a personal autocomplete feature running in the background of our existence. Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix; they are the precursors to truly knowing ourselves, and if we continue to leverage these technologies (which we will), they will continue to expose us in surprisingly personal ways. The confusion isn’t about whether we will use these technologies, it’s about the dynamic that will surface given their inevitable use. Are we moving towards a dehumanizing overlord, or perhaps a very humanizing mirror — a mirror we’ve collectively designed with the capacity to reflect back the most human elements of ourselves? The things about us that we’re either unaware of or incapable of discovering on our own.

If we accept that the creation of new technologies and information will continue and that the processing power and filtering potential will follow suit, then it seems inevitable that we will be continuously sharpened into more authentic versions of ourselves. A race of distinctly human humans coexisting with the autocompleting digital mirrors that allow us all to see who we really are.

Inspired by ideas and insights from The Inevitable, by Kevin Kelly.

The Perilous Paradox of Social Media in Higher Education

If you’re a post-secondary faculty member in 2017, I implore you to invest the mere 10 minutes necessary to truly absorb this posited paradox. We live in very interesting times to say the least. An arms race for attention, which began in the late 90’s fueled by the dawn of the modern Internet, is coming to a head. And while how serious you intend to take it is entirely up to you, make no mistake, apathy and lack of foresight will lead inevitably towards a single perilous fate for humanity (one tragically unaided by our recent choice in politicians).

The proverbial nukes (social/mobile media in the context of this analogy) have been tested, and their immense power undeniable. What more proof do we require in order to understand what’s to come? More people currently own a cell phone than a toothbrush; every second, more than 500 hours of video is added to YouTube; Facebook’s population is more than twice that of the United States; Each minute, Instagram users post over 48,000 photos; and Snapchat users watch 6 billion videos every day (and that’s broadly speaking; the figures when looking specifically at student demographics are much more staggering).

The primary focus of our students’ attention cannot be questioned, and I’m sorry to say, but your cleverly narrated, auto-advancing PowerPoint doesn’t cut it in 2017 (don’t even get me started on lectures). Where students are devoting MOST of their attention is unquestionably where faculty are investing the LEAST. This reluctance to understand (much less embrace) the current technological state of our society and culture is a perilous paradox indeed.

Fortunately, like the Caribbean Crisis of 1962, the writing is on the wall and we’ve been provided the necessary intelligence to turn the tides if we’re willing to take action. As educators in the modern age, we have a simple choice. We either sit idle and watch as our student’s attention gets siphoned by corporate advertisers and crafty influencers, or we come to terms with our insecurity, hesitancy, and irrational romance for tradition, and do the very thing we’ve always asked of our students, take ownership and learn before it’s too late.

Facebook doesn’t care if you don’t see the value of live video; they will continue to harvest attention at astonishing rates. Instagram gives zero shits when it comes to your unwillingness to learn about filters and social storytelling; they will continue to attack the teenage market relentlessly. Snapchat couldn’t care less that you still think it’s just a platform for teens to send scandalous selfies; they will continue to innovate and move well beyond the current $25 million valuation. These platforms (along with a few others), which collectively constitute “social media,” (or perhaps more accurately represent the current state of the internet) are only a glimpse of what’s to come, and if you’ve come to accept this reality, then free yourself from the delusional notion that the momentum of technology will somehow subside, or even more absurdly, cease altogether. Apocalypse aside, this train is forging ahead, and it’s only bound to pick up speed as we go.

As educators, we have one move in this game. Become the digital practitioners we see in our students. Stop fearing the inevitable and work to collectively reclaim our student’s attention. For all students who are currently enrolled in post-secondary education, I would guess that less than 5% of their interactions on social media are initiated or influenced by practicing faculty. This is simply a failed opportunity that we can either confront with honesty or ignore with indifference. It’s not a question of whether our students will live on these platforms in the future, it’s a question of whether we as educators have the audacity to meet them there.

If you’re ready to make the investment, but need some added inspiration, I’m happy to have a conversation. All you have to do is ask.

Contact | @taykendesign