Will the Blockchain enable Neo-Tribalism?

I’ve been working around bitcoin for almost three years and have been consistently fascinated by it. So much so that I even embarked upon a career-change into technology and have been building my skills as a programmer these past few years. (I figure I will have just as much time, if not more, to pursue the sorts of projects that drew me into film in the first instance.)

One of the joys of getting into technology, is to speculate on possible futures. What will happen if?

One of the wilder speculations I’ve been coming back to in my mind, is whether the blockchain will enable a new sort of tribalism. And no, not the kind where we eat each other. The good kind. The sitting-under-trees-telling-stories kind. Tribalism has been much maligned and may conjure certain images – after all, the winners have written our history. But at least hear me out…

First, we get some form of self-sovereign digital identity happening on the blockchain. There is simply too good an argument, too many costs to be saved, too much to be gained, that make such a digital identity a fait accompli — (and because a Big Brother centralised approach has failed before, the only acceptable solution is decentralised). Then, these identities will enable and be created by, a reputation layer. Imagine an append-only record of claims. A record that is immutable on the blockchain. Something I’ve been working on, for example.

A reputation layer would store information that qualifies the identities interacting with each other. Sort of like clothing an invisible man. Each claim made on the reputation layer, sheds some light on the character of the identity that claim is about. Suddenly, our reputations become a tangible commodity. And, I hope, we all put on our best behaviour because there is more a stake — more to be lost. We all just ‘do the right thing’. Wouldn’t that be great!

So what sort of information goes into such a reputation layer? Initially, I think about all the sorts of claims that we make about each other, that organisations make about us, that we make about things. Think consumer reviews – ‘I ate that pie and it was yummy’ or ‘This internet enabled toaster burns things’. Think accreditations – ‘having fulfilled all the requirements prescribed by the university…’ or ‘this company is organic’. Think ratings  – ‘I read this blog and it was worthwhile’ or ‘I like that song’. These statements could all be considered claims; with a source, some data and a target.

The next step, is to try imagine what new sorts of claims we could make on such a reputation layer.

To try imagine that, I cast my imagination to what has come before. That is, to the myths and legends of small tribal societies.  Rites of passage or initiation. Take traditional tattoos as an example. To those who know the story behind the symbolism, a particular tattoo may convey a rich meaning. It says something about its bearer. Now imagine if that type of information could be conveyed into the blockchain, into the aforementioned reputation layer that is coming for us. The particular meaning of such information could be agreed upon by some arbitrary consensus mechanism.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could more readily identify the elders of our community? The wizards. Here is someone who has earned the respect of the community as a result of their expertise, skill-set or wisdom. What would happen if anyone could point out who they identified as ‘wizard’ on this reputation layer? Think of what it would do to hiring, to PR, to the power balance between employers and employees?

Imagine if ‘being a wizard at x’ was the most valuable form of currency on this reputation layer. It’s conceivable that commodity reputation could surpass money in its value.

Would that mean we forget about everything else and spend all our time trying to become wizards? Or do we sit around a campfire and listen to wizards regale us with their tales of magic and wonder? To teach us how we too, can become wizards…

Is that not starting to sound like some form of neo-tribalism?

NB: This idea is half-baked, what do you think the future will bring?

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