History typically praises successful innovations for far more than their original intent. Some of the most disruptive 21st century technologies expanded on the backbone of inventions that served a smaller purpose. Moving forward, the Internet of Value can become the internet’s legacy, powered by blockchain.
Today’s technological climate is fueled by thinkers that question how inventions affect the ‘big picture’. For instance, thinkers who used this lens on blockchain technology led to its applications outside of digital currency.
Now, industry pioneers imaging blockchain’s ability to disrupt whole industries. Previously, many thought it could only be used for digital currencies.
The Blockchain Research Institute, for example, is an institution that is actively researching ways that blockchain technology can serve as the solution to major global issues.
Similar sentiments emerged during the dawn of the internet.
At its founding, many praised the World Wide Web’s ‘big picture’ ability to solve prominent issues in the world.
Given the similar intent and circumstance between the two technologies, the history of the internet provides insight into blockchain’s future.
A universal platform
With similar potential to revolutionize industries and equalize all users, blockchain earned the title of the ‘second internet.’
The internet’s greatest pioneers reflect this belief even in their earliest statements.
“The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing, said Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, in a 1998 statement. “Its universality is essential.”
At that time, the World Wide Web was approximately the same age as blockchain is today. Eerily, though, Berners-Lee’s statement could easily apply to blockchain.
Whether or not the internet succeeds in universally allowing for the free and open exchange of ideas is subjective, but the sentiment offers a lot to learn.
According to a piece by The New Yorker, John Perry Barlow, a ‘cyber-libertarian’ activist and one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, blockchain is a key example of the movement to decentralize the internet.
A decentralized world
In Barlow’s 1996 manifesto, he predicted a future for the internet where internet citizens have autonomy and are able to exist without fears of institutions controlling the public.
“We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks.” Barlow said. “I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us.”
In many ways, the internet has not delivered on what Barlow and his contemporaries imagined. The internet is dominated by intermediaries, as most users rely on their Internet Service Providers (ISP) in order to connect.
Blockchain, on the other hand, reflects these principles in a way that does not rely on intermediaries in many cases.
When blockchain technology is used in a decentralized context, it allows for peer-to-peer interactions where there is no single governing figure. Much in the same way that Barlow envisioned the internet, blockchain has no ‘greater authority.’
Much like with the internet, skeptics frequently challenge blockchain’s optimism. The core question for many is about the technology’s ability to exist on a global platform.
While the World Wide Web’s potential excited the tech world, many were doubtful it would live up to its promises.
“Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms,” said a 1995 Newsweek article in criticism of the internet. “They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic. Baloney.”
Newsweek’s article from 1995, “The Internet? Bah!” is humorous in retrospect, but reflects a very real sense of skepticism at the time.
Today, many direct similar skepticism towards blockchain technology. Most focus on the technology’s issues with scalability, while many are doubtful that the technology will have a level of impact consistent with its hype.
The Internet of Value
Often those who believe that blockchain represents a new evolution for the internet, define the internet in two eras.
The first era is titled the Internet of Information. According to the Blockchain Research Institute, while the Internet of Information revolutionized the way we communicate, it has not impacted business and commerce in the same way.
The Institute states that this is due to intermediaries. Currently, establishing trust online depends on a bank, government or major company identifying the user. However, it is believed that the Internet of Value, the internet’s blockchain-led evolution, is able to succeed in these areas due to its lack of need for intermediaries.
Without intermediaries, blockchain technology is able to lead to the fulfilment of the internet’s original promises.
Today, the internet is under more control than ever, especially amidst threats to net neutrality. Blockchain technology represents many of the internet’s key ideals, and can help create a future where they are a reality.