It’s all the rage! It’s going to change our lives! Is it a bird? A plane? Superman?? No – it’s the Blockchain! And it’s coming for you.
So how do it explain this to your kids? It would be pretty easy if this were, say, Thanos. “Listen kids”, you would say, “There is this big monster god-like guy with a weird chin, who wants to destroy half of all reality. So, umm … try to be in the other half!” Pretty engrossing stuff if you are a kid, and you can bet they’ll be ready to push their friends to the front of the line when Thanos comes a-calling.
But with the Blockchain, you are all at sea. “Listen kids”, you would start, “There is this thing, see, that’s going to change all our lives, by chunking data into blocks and then distributing it across many thousands of nodes so that the integrity of the data is maintained, and …”. Their eyes have already glazed over by now as they wonder when you’ll get to the part about ice-cream.
So to help you out in your own version of “The Talk”, here is a conversation I recently had with my 10-year-old daughter.
Me: Come daughter! Let’s have a chat about something important that can change your life.
Daughter: Leave me alone! I’m a very smart girl and already know everything about everything. Besides, I am Instagramming a video of our dog. People are very interested in videos of other people’s dogs.
No they aren’t. They are just bored out of their minds and will click on anything to get a few seconds off of doing or thinking about something actually meaningful. Anyway – I want to talk to you about the Blockchain. It’s going to change your life and your work after you graduate from college.
Ha! That’s what you said about the internet of things, and we still don’t have a talking fridge. Anyway, I read that article you sent me the other day called “Explaining Blockchain to 5 year old children”.
I’m not 5. So why are you sending me that stuff?
Did you learn anything from it? If it was meant for 5 year olds surely a smart 10-year old like you must have got it.
Dad! It used words like words like transaction, validation, cryptography and intermediary. Now of course I am very smart and understand pretty much everything, but still! The article was stupid – imagine a 5-year old reading it, unless the 5-year-old is like, Ender Wiggin.
The second coming of Ender Wiggin!
No! Duh! The zeroth coming! Ender Wiggin is born in the future, silly.
Well all right. So you basically understood nothing. Now sit down and prepare to bask in the glow of my explanatory powers!
(Eyerolls all around.)
Remember a couple of months ago, we went for that wedding in Long Island?
Yeah. How can I forget? It was the most boring day of my life.
The most boring … ? (sigh) Anyway, there were hundreds of people there, most of whom were not related to the bride or the groom. Many of them were just casual acquaintances.
And don’t forget, it was mostly old people like you and mom.
Not the point. So why do you think they invited so many people? Weddings are pretty expensive, so why invite people you only know a little bit? Shouldn’t they rather have bought cool stuff for their house? Like a VR kit?
Yes they should have. I wouldn’t have minded at all if I wasn’t invited.
But that’s how weddings always are. Families invite everyone they know as long as they can afford it. And traditionally, in most cultures around the world, the bride’s family pays for the whole thing.
Umm … you are going to pay for my wedding?
These are ancient traditions. We don’t do that anymore. But why do you think that tradition started? Why did the bride’s family pay for the party and then invite people that they barely know?
I don’t know, but it sounds like a great tradition!
Ok. Try to think this through – why did it become a tradition for the bride’s family to pay for weddings? And it happened independently in almost all countries across the world?
Well you and mom are always telling me how women are mistreated across the world. It’s probably related to that.
Kind of. You are on the right track. See, many centuries ago, there were no official records of marriages like there are today. So there were no documents like marriage certificates that could prove that a marriage had actually happened.
Why would they need proof?
Well, a man could marry a woman, and then claim that the marriage never happened. Because of the way most societies were set up, the woman had a lot more to lose. In most countries, the man could just get married again, but the woman couldn’t because of the suspicion or scandal that she had already been married.
That’s just stupid and evil! Why would they set up societies like that?
Ask grandpa next time you meet him. Anyway, the point is that that’s the way it was. And so it became very important for the women and their families to be able to prove that marriages had actually happened.
So they had to prove it without any documents? What’s that got to do with who pays for the parties?
Well think about it. In the absence of any documents, videos or the internet, how can anyone prove that anything actually happened?
I dunno. Get to the point already!
Let’s say you and your friends are playing soccer. You win by a score of 3-1, but when you get back to class one of the players on the other team claims that they won by 3-1. So which team actually won?
Now you’re being dumb again. They can’t do that because everyone who played the game knows the score, and also the couple of other kids who were hanging around watching.
Exactly! So again – in the absence of any documents, videos or the internet, how can anyone prove that anything actually happened?
I guess if some people see something happen then they can tell other people about it?
Yup. And now think back to how weddings work again. The bride’s family invites everyone they know, so they can watch the wedding. And eat and drink at the wedding. And then they automatically become witnesses, not guests!
Hmmm … what if, you know, the groom paid them to lie? Evil men can do that sometimes.
Yes they can. But the groom will have to pay a lot of people, won’t he? At least half the people in fact. Because otherwise the bride’s family can still pull up more witnesses than he can. And that’s why they invite as many people as they can afford.
Ah – to make it more difficult to change the facts!
Absolutely. The groom will find it too expensive and troublesome to pay so many people. He might as well stay married. That’s kind of what happened with me.
MOM! Dad said …
Anyway, what’s all this got to do with the Blockchain?
I just described the Blockchain to you. You take a piece of information – like two people getting married – and you spread it across many many computers around the world. And as long as half of those computers agree that the information is true, we all accept it as true.
Computers get hacked all the time. Just last week my friend Pam’s phone was hacked and sent all those lovey-dovey messages to John. She was soooo embarrassed!
Her phone wasn’t hacked. Anyway, just like with paying off too many guests at a wedding, it just won’t be worth the effort to hack over half the computers with the information. It would be better for the hacker to just join the honest group of computers – they would make more money that way.
Money? How are they making money? Who is paying money?
The people who want their information stored on these computers. Like the bride and groom at the wedding. They pay a small amount so the information is stored on the Blockchain. Just like them, millions of other people can also pay a small amount of money to have their information stored. This money gets distributed to the owners of all the computers.
So how is this changing my life?
This is a cheaper, safer and better way to store all information. So in the future, and probably by the time you start working, all agreements will be stored on some Blockchain.
And that’s going to change my life?
Probably not. You’ll still have to do your laundry.
Ah well then. That was a good talk. Can I go back to Instagramming videos of the dog?