Rebel Without A Protocol

Notes on Tribalization and the Crypto-Community

Zak Hap
May 2, 2018 · 2 min read
From “Rebel Without A Cause”

“Specialist technologies detribalize. The nonspecialist electric technologies retribalize.” –Marshall McLuhan¹

Our new tribalism has occurred in cyberspace but not as McLuhan described. Viewing Facebook as a tribe: when Facebook appeared online, there was a plurality of social media platforms, specialized camps of people utilizing different platforms within different communities. Here, the tribe came with the digital specialization, in the case of Facebook, college friends keeping in touch through a system of “hot or not.” As Facebook grew, generalizing itself to a platform connecting the world, it detribalized itself as it absorbed utility and widened its mission.

The hierarchical structures of the internet and internet 2.0 businesses are feudal. I have heard a historical argument² for this: due to the limitations of computation power at the genesis of internet protocols (ARPANET, TCP/IP), the adoption of a server/client master/slave interaction model was the path of least resistance.

In line with McLuhan, specialist technologies also participate in detribalization as they more immediately accelerate the flow of information/data. This expectation of detribalization through specialist technology is subverted by our reality:

Specialist technologies are generalizing, shifting from tools/applications to protocols/frameworks.

While specialist tools/apps create communities around them, generalist protocols subsume users and communities well beyond any specific “use case.”

Moreover, McLuhan notes of industrialized society–

“Concern with effect rather than meaning is a basic change of our electric time, for effect involves the total situation, and not a single level of information movement.” ³

One of the biggest realizations I had about bitcoin was around what it is (like many, many before me). “Bitcoin” is simply information, it is data that everyone has read-access to, but only you have write-access to your allotted value. Naively, the question on TV is “what is bitcoin’s value?”

We are decidedly in an electric age: a shift of focus from something’s meaning to its effect. The impact of Bitcoin’s underlying blockchain structure is just that.


  1. McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media. 1964. [Link]
  2. Fairfield, Joshua A. T. Owned Property, Privacy, and the New Digital Serfdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. [Link]
  3. McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media. 1964. [Link]

Zak Hap

Written by

Zak Hap

@zakhap @LiminalMedia // Projects Brewing

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