Although decentralisation is not a new concept, it is having quite an impact in recent times. That is due to the invention of the Bitcoin technology, which some oversimplify and call Blockchain technology. By calling it this way, they show exactly why decentralisation is still a new idea for most of humanity today. By considering the bitcoin token (BTC) optional and ignoring its creation, purpose and value for the network and the technology to work, the whole idea is missed and can lead to the false conclusion that the Bitcoin technology is all about Blocks and Blockchain.
There is nothing new about having blocks of data. It is simply an accounting ledger, registering events and state changes. Even distributed storage of data is not new, for example a redundant cloud service that keeps copies of entries for easier retrieval of data in different time zones and safe keeping of said data in case of lost and destroyed hardware. Even having a history of entries with a link each change to its predecessor is not really a novel idea.
As a method of recording data “Blockchain” technology without the genius implementations that Bitcoin, with its token incentivised decentralised Proof-of-Work mechanism introduces, would actually be quite an inefficient and expensive way of doing something that already works better.
This is all based on the principal of having some upright entity doing all the accounting and trusting in its ability to stay uncorrupted. But that principal idea is eroding globally faster than a Venezuelan can spend his money before it loses its purchasing power. The concept of a central authority to rule over all and for all, has been put to the test in the last couple of thousand years. It was perfected by its users, the ruling classes of its respective societies. And because positions around power and control have been the main profiteers whereas dependent lives often suffered, competition was fierce and led to a system eliminating everybody and everything that challenged the powers to be.
Enter the internet, the technology to spread information everywhere and to everyone, which, for the first time in history, offers everyone a picture of what our species has done so far. Central authority as a dominant factor over all these years is conspicuous. And its ability to provide for the betterment of humanity as a whole and not just for some lucky, clever and organised individuals was put into the people’s court, to answer the question of what value it really brings, leading humans on a path to greater wealth and stability of its own kind.
Regardless of our individual quarrels with each other, most consider the development of our kind important and something bigger than each one of us. We acknowledge a higher purpose than satisfying our little wants and needs. We are fed up with all the violence, suppression and suffering. We truly want a world filled with happiness. Not just for us, but for everybody. We don’t want to repeat history. We don’t want to individually become better at the old game of power. We do not want to be the winner when that means someone else will be the loser.
The consequence is that humanity is on the verge of becoming dominated by a truly intrinsic ethical behaviour. Now is a time where old beliefs are individually and collectively challenged and new ways to deal with each other are being sought, which are honest, open and benevolent.
But that takes time. It is a process, not a step. Ideas have to be talked about and actions have to be taken. Results have to be analysed and new assumptions have to be established. Something similar happened to the news industry. In the late 1990s and the early 2000s the concept of having everybody contribute to news broadcasting via the internet seemed absurd. “What a mess it would be”, “how will anybody figure out which news will be true”.
But humanity actually learned and grew a lot, exactly because of this uncertain time. Now we ask for a source when someone makes a claim. We question things we hear, see and read. We developed an inquisitive mind. That is a really good trait we acquired and are putting to good use; now that we are coming across all these information we have constant access to.
One thing which was learned and which was surprising, especially here in the western world, is that the concept of feudalism, tyranny and suppression is still a prevailing construct and is holding all of us hostage. It is nothing short of slavery and it concerns all of us. Our modern system is just an upgraded version, slavery 2.0 so to say. We might not have seen it and actually thought of it as post-slavery, but factually we still are enduring the characteristics of not-self-ownership.
And here comes something new. We have had enough of coercing others and are now looking for new concepts. We ask questions of how we can live together in cooperation and harmony.
We see that central power can and always will be used against the people by some that lack inherent compassion for others. We see that central power structures attract certain types of people that do not want to play along.
We might not be able to change the nature that leads some to act in this disregarding way. So a solution needs to allow for anyone to be able to NOT be enslaved and oppressed. A way to opt out of an environment that is harmful. A simple exit strategy. To exit central authority.
So finally, now we can have a serious look at decentralisation.
There is already a term that describes a societal system that is not based on one person or a group and that is not determined by rulership of some over others. It is called anarchy and it is not the chaos that we were taught it would be. But since the term was painted with a grim image, it has to been made clear what anarchy actually is.
The word itself, coming from Greek, means no authority, no ruler. Wikipedia says: people rejecting hierarchy, voluntary associations and no central rulership.
The main idea here is voluntarily deciding to belong to a society, a group of people with equal ranking, where no one can be forced to anything without consent in the first place. It basically rules out slavery.
It is like a family. Although there are certainly families where one person does dictatorially rule over all others, it is normally not what we think of families. A couple with equal standing in a relationship is mostly not considering either one of them to be the “boss”. And still they come to conclusions when deciding on where their life should be heading. Each party agrees to topics that were talked about, or they are free to leave the engagement.
Now that does not mean that individual members can just run off and default on agreements. After all, the members of said society have agreed on a system of protection in such a case and that ensures that the wronged party will be made whole. So a punishment for defaulting, for not doing what you agreed on beforehand, might be something that a group of people was willing to install in their societal contract so to deter some from defaulting.
In order to have a peaceful togetherness, rules need to be agreed on. Although rules can be established in different ways, members need to be free to leave.
Decentralisation is based on this premise. Voluntary association following a set of rules with the ability to leave at any moment and take a different path. This creates an incentive and a competition for established societies to be beneficial to its members which would otherwise just leave.
Regarding the use of technology, an open source decentralised system is subject to constant improvements by users that reject certain protocols or wish to see new features implemented. Others will see these changes and inevitably compare their current used system, software, hardware or protocol and make the decision for the old or new one.
It is pure anarchy.
But it is not chaos. Different systems, networks and protocols are run and used parallel. Whole communities exist, each having their own ideas on how things should be, their own jargon and even their respective memes.
Since we are living in an increasingly interconnected world, changes in one system have an effect on all others, good and bad. All the negative changes, especially those which really have dire consequences, are looked upon by other groups and will thankfully be avoided and learned from. The positive improvements most likely are of such a useful quality that the users of other systems would also like to enjoy them. So either other groups implement these features or they run the risk of losing members.
Decentralisation guarantees the greatest degree of freedom for development and therefore, will outrun every other system performance-wise in the long run. The slightest possible existence of decentralisation will lead to faster adoption and adjustments to new input and changes.
If we want to get a feeling of the potential of decentralised systems in technology, we can look at Linux OS or Open Street Map. Both started with laughably few features and almost no participants compared to their competition. But now every Android phone and almost every Server is run by Linux, and Open Street Map shows details that make centralised navigation systems feel like a drawing compared to a photo, because of individual users’ entries.
Today, we constantly discover more nasty truths, that people in control of centralised systems are perpetrating daily, that have been long hidden from us. Our information sharing capabilities have led us to see what is going on and we are looking for ways to change.
Whenever people come together nowadays, there is this premise that no individual is supposed to rule over all others. This creates new forms of organisational structures in interest groups, governmental branches and even in private companies.
Now is a time where decentralisation is becoming a household idea, and the advantages of decentralisation over centralised systems are realised.