A lot has been written about decentralization and why it matters in the age of digital transformation. The term is often used in the area of crypto-economics and linked to new technologies, such as blockchains and smart contracts.
In short, the difference between centralization and decentralization can be explained in terms of control, coordination, governance, and organization. On one extreme we find dictatorships with centralized and authoritarian leaders or a group of leaders. On the other end of the spectrum, we see community-governed networks with collaborative and transparent coordination mechanisms.
Last week I was in Georgia (the country) where I discussed the trend toward flatter and more decentralized organizations and what it means for leadership, governance, and the future of work. Even though the presentation wasn’t directly about new technologies, it was unavoidable that the current developments in distributed ledger technologies, coins, and tokens were discussed.
What is so exciting is that the “centralization versus decentralization” trend is often viewed as black or white. Our discussion initially led to the following conclusions:
- It is doubtful if we will ever witness the fully-decentralized communities/networks that blockchain advocates have in mind.
- As long as communities/organizations/governments aren’t fully decentralized, business-as-usual will prevail.
These conclusions can easily lead to procrastination. There is a lot of talk about the digital transformation, but most governments and corporations don’t really get serious about it.
We often think about the advantages of the digital age (starting a blog, a YouTube channel, etc.), but usually don’t act accordingly. It’s like we (and I generalize here) are waiting for the new (completely) decentralized world to emerge first.
While I understand this behaviour, the discussion in Georgia made me realize that decentralization has already taken root in our society. Personal expression, increased collaboration (dialogue), and improved transparency have already made the world flatter. What is even more interesting is that this flatter world has created a fertile environment for the further and lightning speed development of decentralization and peer-to-peer technologies.
We should stop procrastinating and start taking advantage of the many benefits of the decentralized world. We should also become more serious about its challenges. Here are some of the things we discussed in Georgia that made me realize we are already living in the “decentralized future.”
The “new” dream job for kids
While being a pilot or firefighter were the dream jobs of many children when I was young, becoming a “vlogger”/YouTuber has become the number one dream for many children today. What is so interesting is that it doesn’t seem to matter where the children live. This “borderless construct” is one of the features of a decentralized environment.
The fact that we see children already having successful YouTube channels only encourages the dream of becoming famous on the Internet even more. Personal expression, authenticity, and peer-to-peer communication and dialogue are some of the attractive features of the new dream.
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Privacy and data-collection
I hear more and more remarks about people “talking privacy” without “acting privacy.” Of course, most people (including me) believe that privacy is essential. However, I also think that we are willing to give up some of our privacy if it leads to new experiences or more conveniences. Even the privacy fanatics often have “location sharing” enabled on their smartphones.
The General Data Protection Regulation in Europe is another example of the way many of us deal with our privacy. We supposedly take it seriously, but not many people seem to understand what they agree to when they “click to agree” (let alone that they understand how these regulations are enforced).
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Sensors and data-analytics
Sensors, cameras, data-analytics and artificial intelligence make the world more transparent and flatter. Hiding anything in our digital world is extremely complicated. Also, we are more quickly aware of issues, problems, and possible solutions.
The disruption of traditional media
Social media is changing journalism. It could even be argued that social media has already disrupted traditional media. More and more people rely on social media as their number one news source. What is remarkable is that even traditional media uses social media as their primary source of information.
The end of “centralized governments”?
Information has always been one of the most critical sources of power in organizations and governments. Dictators have always made sure that they only had access to information or that the information was destroyed. The burning of books happened throughout history and is an excellent example of this. But in the digital age “hiding and destroying information” has become extremely difficult. Lots of information is in the cloud or distributed on people’s personal computers and devices.
And there is more. It has also become very difficult (almost impossible) to hide conspiracies and other “secret plans.” The already mentioned sensors, cameras and social media make things so much more transparent.
What Does It All Mean?
The often desired “fully-fledged” decentralization doesn’t exist yet. But the decentralization trend is evident. We must be better prepared or at least start preparing ourselves. There is no time for procrastination:
- Personal expression, creativity, and critical reflection have become even more important skills in a digital age. Education must be rethought around these skills.
- The flatter world leads to more active collaboration. More collaboration leads to more experimentation. More experimentation leads to more innovation. It’s clear to me that digital technologies will eventually lead to more and better “decentralization,” offering even more opportunities to everyone. But we must act now.
- We must become smarter about decentralization. Of course, the current “peer-to-peer” technologies and developments aren’t perfect (misuse of data, fake news, etc.). But these issues cannot be solved by traditional and centralized means (regulations, etc.). We must collaborate to find decentralized and tech-driven solutions now.
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