Dear Bitcoin Core and Bitcoin Unlimited Supporters,
A contentious hard fork isn't your only nightmare.
Your nightmare is that the Bitcoin brand becomes so tarnished by the scaling debate that the general public, regulators, legislators and businesses decide that it’s not wise to adopt it ... ever.
As the debate rages, the public is hearing about it ... and the press isn’t good. If you want evidence, take a look at Laura Shin’s recent article in Forbes. That’s the one where she compared your in-fighting to that of the Democrats and the Republicans.
Aside from terrorist groups like ISIS, it’s hard to imagine any two groups that are more universally vilified than those two right now, at least in the United States.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of Shin. Like all of us who are devoting their lives to this “space,” she WANTS Bitcoin and the Age of Decentralization to succeed. At the same time, she has a responsibility to tell the truth as a journalist.
Her metaphor is accurate when you consider just what these two largest American political parties known for these days: not getting anything meaningful done, constantly attacking and bickering with each other, defending entrenched ideologies and putting selfish interests above the needs of the greater good.
And like Republicans and Democrats who are losing the respect of the country, you developers, miners and other representative stakeholders on both sides of the block size debate, who, like it or not, represent our community, are making us all look bad. The results of this loss of respect can have implications far beyond the philosophical and technical issues.
The world is watching and deciding what to make of this Bitcoin-Blockchain-Decentralization experiment.
We are one side of Geoffrey Moore’s adoption curve chasm, known for mapping out how technologies move from early adopters to mainstream usage. The key lesson of Moore’s curve is that the people who are just on the edge of the Early Majority (as opposed to the Innovators like you and the Early Adopters like me) are the ones who are deciding if they will embrace it.
However, if these potential adopters read, “Oh, it’s like Democrats and Republicans” when they are considering Bitcoin, they will probably react the way that they do with the real Democrats and Republicans.
“Forget all of them.”
Perception Is Key
This new perception, combined with previous negative press that has accumulated since the days of Mt. Gox and Silk Road and the natural enemies of decentralization, will give additional ammunition to the people who want to keep Satoshi’s fantastic innovation from spreading. And they will use it to instill fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) in the general public.
Primavera de Filippi, a research fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, introduced me to Schopenhauer’s three stages of technology adoption:
First, innovation is ridiculed.
Second, it is violently opposed.
Third, it is recognized as inevitable.
For many others and for me, Bitcoin reaching stage 3 is indeed inevitable. We just don’t know when. What we do know is that stage 2, violent opposition, can be lengthened or shortened.
My fear is that the longer the block size debate continues, the more FUD is created, and the longer that stage 2 lasts.
The ongoing drama of the block size debate is not just bad for Bitcoin, it’s bad for everyone who cares about decentralization. It’s bad for the startups who are actively thinking about how to market their projects to more mainstream audiences. (We even have a network just for them.)
Worse, it’s bad for the people who don’t even know they should care about decentralization and are being harmed daily, like the 2 billion unbanked and immigrants paying exorbitant fees for international remittances.
Bitcoin is the poster child for the decentralization movement, which is why I care so much about putting this block size/scaling debate behind us.
The Pulitzer Prize–winning, NY Times columnist Tom Friedman has a new book out called Thank You for Being Late. In it, he talks about a number of macro-trends all contributing to the “Age of Accelerations.”
Interestingly, he says, “I am sure I will be writing about blockchain in the paperback edition of this book” (p.146). And on page 275: “If we want to liberate society, we first need to liberate the Internet.”
A thought leader like Friedman, who can push a significant segment of the early majority to action with a single column, doesn’t fully understand the technology yet (I’ve already pinged him and begun that process) but is thus far optimistic. Conversely, we need to recognize that the LAST thing we want for him and others like him to say is, “It has potential, but it’s not ready for prime-time because they can’t get along and that just puts you at risk.”
At the end of the book, Friedman talks about how government is broken and about his upbringing in Minnesota. For many years, according to Friedman, Minnesota had a tremendous legacy of bipartisanship that was a model and inspiration for the nation. Democrats and Republicans worked together. They compromised. They got stuff done.
On a larger scale, government used to be about compromise. In the U.S. at least, we need a grand compromise on things like taxes, spending, immigration reform and healthcare, but no one is willing to budge from their rigid positions. Politicians today just dig their heels in. It’s frustrating, angering, and it makes us vulnerable in so many ways.
So, if everyone from the outside looks at the “civil war” between Core and Unlimited and reads in a major publication like Forbes, “Well, it’s like Democrats and Republicans,” it’s hard to imagine anyone saying, “Yes, I would love to have MORE of that in my life.”
I understand the basic technical mechanics of the block size debate. I understand there are philosophical issues (and real money) at stake, and I understand enough to recognize that we have a great thing going here. To make it even greater, we need a whole bunch more people to realize that it is, in fact, better than our current systems of centralization because it has less risk, less friction, greater security and lower costs — all of which is better for everyone.
What I don’t have is the answer to what the compromise is.
But, as a marketer with over 20 years’ experience in disruptive technology, I recognize that the people on the other side of the adoption chasm are not like us. They are much more risk-averse. They’ve been burned by promises of technology panaceas and they aren’t going to read Satoshi’s white paper, try to figure out what SegWit or lightning networks are, or understand what hashrates are all about.
They are just going to ask themselves, “Is the risk worth it?”
We have a chance to do what the Republicans and Democrats are seemingly unable to do: make a compromise for the sake of the endeavor.
I can’t tell you what it should be. All I would just suggest is that the parties agree to come together with open minds and possibly a world-class mediator. It’s time to be like the leaders of old who were able, when necessary, to put personal feelings and self-interest aside for the benefit of the cause.
The longer the scaling debate drags on, the longer the larger cause of decentralization will suffer a setback.
As I look around at the state of the world and the challenges that Friedman accurately identifies facing all of humanity, we can’t afford any unnecessary delays.
I just hope we can resolve it soon.
This op-ed is a guest post by Jeremy Epstein. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Bitcoin Magazine.