Can an old dog learn a new trick?

or can our generation adapt to the blockchain?

Technology gets better and better. Sometimes the pace of the change is slow but sometimes it is pretty fast. There are cases where the change is simply a gradual improvement in some factors. For example, take a smartphone and examine the quality of the camera. It is pretty clear that several years ago it was a lousy optics and now it starts to compete with professional cameras.

The change may not be a gradual one, but rather a big one. It may even be a factor of 10. In this case, the change becomes an enabler. For example the mobile data plan became better and cheaper over time and suddenly several years ago a company named Waze understood that “hey, no one needs to download the maps anymore at home before driving, and people can report traffic incidents in real-time”. The navigation systems were suddenly changed and anyone started using them (other competing apps too).

Sometimes the change is very gradual and a continuous one over years. An evolution and not a revolution. For example, think of the automobile until recently. Each year the car model seems to be better but only in some minor aspects. It may be that the design is nicer, or the breaks are better, the engine is more economic, etc. It is easy to adopt and adapt. But looking a generation back it is totally a different car. (These days however, the autonomic car are a revolution)

In other cases, the change is a disruption. Sometimes the benefit of technology is not clear. It might at first seems to be almost meaningless or even unnecessary. A beautiful example, (as written in the innovator’s dilemma) is the hard drive. Take a look at the starting point many years ago. Each evolution made it smaller. However, no exiting client had the need for smaller, slower and more expensive drive. However, news market emerged such as personal computers in the mainframe era, and laptops in the PC era. Then, the need suddenly emerged. Smaller laptop had to have a smaller hard drive even at the cost of speed and price per megabyte. Later on, once the technology improved, production lines were built hence cost per unit went down. Therefore, the hard drive became better and cheaper and went mainstream.

So far, we saw that even not-so-young people can use quite successfully new technology. However, there are other cases where the technology is less clear, it has many factors and it changes concepts. The blockchain and the bitcoins are such examples. When someone asks what exactly is blockchain it is damn hard to explain.

The blockchain has so many aspects such as decentralisation, distributed ledger, proof of identify, cryptography, trust the majority without the need to trust any individual, smart contracts, fully audited, and more. Each of these factors has a size of a whale and may even inflict a paradigm shift.

So now the question becomes — how can our generation use it, if at all? how can we trust it? Take bitcoin currency as an example. A normal person is asking himself at least the following:

  1. Who is “printing the money” and who supervises it. We’re used to think of a central bank of our country doing so. This is no more valid
  2. Who sets the value of the currency?
  3. Is my money safe at all? we’re used to think that money is safe in the bank, but there is no bank.
  4. How do we relate to it in IRS reports? isn’t is money laundering?

These are only few questions, yet they are tough cookies and pertain only to the currency aspect of the blockchain.

We have to change our mindset a lot in order to work even with such technology. However, if you think of our kids, they are born into a world where blockchain is a reality. Same as they don’t have to understand the technology of compressing a song and streaming it, or how does the internet work. They don’t have to understand the blockchain. For them it is simply there under the hood. They will use bitcoin to buy coke in the vending machine without having any second thought. For them the question will be — hey dad, why do you trust a bank and not the entire network. Are you sure it is safer at all?

They will not understand why you need to have lawyer drafting a will. A smart contract that is executed automatically is much more logical. I think that our grandsons will not even believe that we went to vote and had to put paper slips inside a box and count them manually. It will be beyond their grasp to imagine going to court and appeal against the validity of the results.

Here I believe that it would be difficult for old dogs to learn new tricks and adapt easily. If at all, we will have to adapt gradually, it will start with some of the clearer aspects and then one baby step after another until we have no choice and our kids will force us to use it and we will probably still be reluctant to some extent.

To me the real question is not “can an old dog adapt to the blockchain?”, but rather “how does an old dog utilises it to build a new startup?”