The Psychological Appeal of Blockchain Technology
In the following paragraphs I will attempt to explain my quick observations of how current relational templates are mirrored by the promises of emerging blockchain technologies.
If we imagine and transform the external world to reflect our inner, or intra-psychic landscape and unmet needs, then blockchain technology, with its promises of decentralized control, an immutable ledger, trustless smart-contracts, distributed autonomous organizations, consensus decision making processes, and private peer to peer transactions can reveal something about us.
Attachment as relational templates
Since core attachment experiences during the first six years of life create the template for how we relate to others and to the world around us, then blockchain technology can reflect the relational template of our current attachment practices and needs.
Simply put, attachment theory attempts to explain how relationships with primary caregivers in the first six years of life and beyond lay the template for future relationships and how we relate to the world. This theory states that during these formative years children need caring, trusting, stable, predictable, emotionally available and receptive caregivers in order to develop into healthy adolescents and adults.
If we are provided with this ideal context, we develop what attachment theorists call a secure attachment style whereby we trust others and ourselves to navigate the challenges of life with flexibility, resilience and emotional intelligence.
In the absence of this ideal context we can develop an insecure attachment style that hinders our ability to adapt and form meaningful trusting relationships, and become unduly preoccupied with issues of trust and self-doubt.
The last 30 years have seen important changes to attachment and caregiving practices.
These changes have been reflected by and through new technologies and their usage. Beyond the usefulness of technology to address real world problems and to meet relevant and manufactured needs, in order for these technologies to take hold they must necessarily reflect deeper symbolic intra-psychic dynamics and unmet needs operating within the individuals embracing these technologies.
Institutional day care is decentralizing attachment
Historically, relational templates and structures were centralized and trust-based, with working parents placing their children in the care of a trusted family member or friend. Whereas today we have decentralized attachment structures with centralized parenting relegated to decentralized daycare institutions where children as old as one month are placed in the anonymous care of institutionalized daycares.
This decentralized care giving economy is where anonymous day care providers are now responsible for providing the primary care for our children, where children turn to multiple impersonal, anonymous surrogate parental nodes to attend to their emotional-relational needs.
Changes in family structure: renegotiating trust
In addition, with the increased rates of separation and divorce, the centralized nuclear family is being replaced by the decentralized structure of the blended family. The blended family is decentralizing primary attachment figures where more attachment nodes are created with step-parents, step-siblings, step-extended families, etc.
The blended family is less stable, with higher divorce rates than nuclear families, creating a potential context for increased attachment volatility and anxiety among all family members. At the heart of this anxiety is the ambiguity around the new familial contract where relational trust (the need to renegotiate the relational contract beyond blood lines within the family) is front and center in the evolving dynamic of the blended family.
These important changes in child care and family structures are taxing on all family members leading to higher levels of anxiety (which is essentially diffused fear, mistrust and self-doubt), and an ongoing search for more secure, stable and predictable relational structures. In the absence of centralized, stable, trusting and predictable parenting and care-giving relationships, many children inadvertently turn to peers for guidance and validation.
This creates a peer-attached culture where only peers are considered as reliable and trusting allies.
Since the decentralized structures of family and caregivers have failed to provide them with an optimal attachment context, the emerging peer-oriented culture becomes a defining relational template for this generation.
The psychological fallout from this is a generation of insecure, anxious children turning to other insecure, anxious children to guide them through the labyrinth of adolescence and young adulthood. Underlying this peer-oriented tendency is a fundamental distrust in the reliability and predictability of a centralized parental authority and its surrogates to provide them with the relational-emotional context they need.
One example of this peer-oriented culture is evidenced by the anxious preoccupation of one’s status on social media platforms. Intimate relationships have been replaced by superficial social media interactions where fear of being truly known and revealed is a defining characteristic of this medium. One repercussion of this is that self-esteem is now as volatile as cryptocurrency valuations, at the mercy of faceless friends’ likes or dislikes of one’s superficial profile activities.
It is no wonder that this generation suffers more from depression, anxiety, loneliness, and boredom than previous generations. However many studies on mental health identify the importance of two to five intimate friendships along with family support as sufficient to buffer people from experiencing such distress.
Furthermore, the developers behind Facebook’s new robot therapist Woebot claim that teenagers and young adults are more comfortable sharing their vulnerabilities with a robot than a real human being. However, this new robot therapist is not bound by a code of ethics nor is your intimate life completely hidden from Facebook.
The internet, via responsible journalism and whistle-blowers, has revealed objective facts of how centralized institutions and corporations have at times failed to protect the interests of its citizens and customers. The growing distrust in these monolithic centralized power structures is warranted and valid, and is fuelling alternative methods of governance and control. The blockchain is our current technological attempt to redress some these fundamental issues. However its staying power will depend on its ability to create concrete tools that are easily deployable for the masses to use.
From a psychological perspective, the promises of emerging blockchain technologies are ripe to reassure the preoccupations with trust, control, privacy and peer-to-peer interactions that our current generation of decentralized-peer-attached individuals is searching for. Time will tell.
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