How decentralization can help solve social issues in an unexpected way
There’s something we got so used to that we stopped noticing it, yet it plays a crucial role in our lives. It controls the things we say, the way we say it, our actions and their consequences.
I’m talking about spaces. Places that are meant to set the context and the rules of all the interactions that happen within them. Canvas intentionally left blank.
This may sound complex, but the rules and traditions are hardwired in the very core of our society, so the examples are simple and easy to understand. You will behave in a different way depending on your current location: on a busy street, at your friend’s house, at a business meeting, or at a family dinner. This might seem obvious, but let’s take this further: you act in one way within the space of official document (an application form for a loan, for example) and in another while writing a letter to a friend. All these cases show an artificially created context that sets the basic rules of behaviour.
The phenomena is much deeper than it seems when you make a brief research on social practices:
- CoffeeShops played a crucial role in the late 17-th century economy as they have provided the space for people of different origins, religions, and occupations to meet, exchange ideas, seal trade deals, discuss the news and rumours. These exchanges shaped the way our society looks today.
- A more recent case (and a peculiar one) are MacDonald restaurants. A study showed they might play an important role in some communities, serving as a place similar to medieval coffee shop — people meet, exchange ideas, and build social experiences there.
Spaces can be designed. We can build places intended to inspire, like museums or churches. Places to boost production and manufacture, like the new Tesla plant. Places we don’t notice but interact with each day, like that park you’ve crossed on your way to work.
It is clear, that any digital space has the same qualities too. Digital spaces design can inspire great stories and nudge you towards creating quality content (think blogging platforms like Medium), or make it easy for you to share your personal things and thoughts, or create new forms of creativity by introducing some artificial limitations (like 140 characters).
But as the examples above show spaces can have new roles and functions beyond the initial design. Roles that could not be pre-calculated. Some would even argue that it’s one of the qualities of a great digital product. Twitter wasn’t intended to become what it is now. Just as Facebook.
This means that sometimes a digital platform might have social responsibilities it was unconscious about and couldn’t even predict. This might explain the Facebook’s founder confusion when it comes to things like Cambridge Analytica scandal. Mark is a tech guy, not a sociology expert, it’s hard for him to grasp that there might be something in his product, beyond the technological solution he is building.
Therefore the common problem with centralized platforms built for any social interactions is that they are not ready to cope with what they might become. However great is the technology behind the platform, or however good their intentions are, the issue is too big for any single company to handle.
People coming to the platform are confined and limited to the space inside it. And as we see these things can change the form of our societies.
The solution? Instead of making more platforms, take a different approach. Decentralize. A decentralized space where everyone has equal rights and the choice what to do. A network controlled by people instead of a platform within the hands of a single company.
The thing with the decentralized network is that it gives people choice: if you don’t like the one you’re using right now — create your own without the effort. In cryptocurrency world, this is called “fork”.
The architecture behind decentralized networks enables a deeper way for the people to control their digital environment, instead of submitting to the rules and regulations of a single platform.
The creation of decentralized spaces could help solve the issues current platforms like Facebook or YouTube are struggling.
Let’s take another view this time from the economy perspective. Platforms are private or public companies. They are business enterprises meant to make money not only to sustain themselves, but to make their investors, founders, and shareholders rich. And that’s how they get caught in a conflict of interests too complex to have a one time solution.
They design their algorithms to meet their own internal goals, while this leads to unexpected consequences.
The platforms are torn between their business KPIs, the interests of their clients, users, communities. Add the social responsibilities they have been unaware of and you’ll get the latest headlines.
By providing a tool for the people to decide, we could return this process to its natural state, undistorted by a financial, reputational or any other kind of interest of one company.
And the beauty of this is not that we shift the balance by introducing another kind of authority, but we build another infrastructure entirely. The one that gives the voice of equal power to each member while none could have total control over it.
This might be by far the most important role of decentralization and the reason why it should not be considered only as a stack of technologies behind the cryptocurrencies.