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Tuesday 20 February 2018
Commentary

Blockchains that free

BC Pires writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

Part II of crosswords & blockchains

Doing a cryptic crossword in (or from) a newspaper nowadays is like wearing bell-bottomed jeans and platform shoes: very few of us have the swagger to transform that amount of dork into retro and pass it off as hipster.

Who, under the age of 40, even picks up a flimsy, dirty newspaper anyway? Online, even the best paper in the world — the English Guardian — can’t be sure of its survival; and, if newspapers’ days are numbered, their quaint little word puzzles are dead and buried.

Nevertheless, I redefine myself daily as an extreme dork with each small but palpable delight gained by solving a fiendish clue like: “City fashionable in the past (7).”

But how many people today would exercise their brains even the small amount necessary to substitute “chic” for “fashionable” and “ago” for “in the past”; and then bother to join them mentally to come up with, “Chicago”? It’s easier to tap their phones and shoot a stream of glowing bullets at dragons or gangsters.

How many people discern — or even care — that the difference between a cryptic crossword and a video game is the difference between engagement and distraction? Who, at the Pavlovian ping of their telephone alerts, does not turn away from reading and turn to harvest their latest emoji? Hear this: the February issue of Harpers reveals that 72 per cent of Britons aged 18-25 say they can express themselves more clearly in emojis than words.

In all the great changes we’ve seen in our lifetime — everything from the first obviously black American president to the first openly racist one — nothing has changed change itself like the internet.

In 2013 David Byrne, chief talking head of the punk-funk-rock band Talking Heads, said, “The Internet will suck all creative content out of the world”; and people in creative industries have certainly seen most of their money sucked out of their wallets.

Musicians who, not long ago, earned big bucks in royalties from album sales now get a trickle of pennies from music-streaming sites. Any writers lucky enough to get into print at all now treat books as a way of getting invited to literary festivals, where they might at least eat three square meals a day for a week instead of worrying how they’re going to pay the rent this month.

The internet, once imagined as the single greatest step our kind took to establishing equality — or at least a deserving meritocracy — has enriched the most ruthless and least gifted people in the world, the ravenous packs of pillager merchants who reduce everything to the level of a commodity so that they can do what they have always done: set up their stalls and make nothing but deals themselves.

And get fat while the people they exploit starve. But that may yet change.

Through what may be the biggest change in all our lifetimes.

And, as always, it’s money, not art, that will make the world go round — although, once we’re in the world, the only thing worth spending money on at all is art.

To protect bitcoin, the world’s first successful crypto-currency, people who know about these things (who might as well be guardian angels, as far as my understanding of it goes — ask BitDepth writer Mark Lyndersay to explain it all to you) developed the blockchain. You can find loads of videos and articles explaining it online, but the key thing about it is contained in its name: it’s a chain of blocks, each link of which has been certified by its trusted participants, encrypted and sealed. To break a single link in the blockchain requires a conspiracy between too many people to permit it.

That drive to protect a cyber-currency is likely to pay off for creative people — although it wouldn’t have to pay very much to be more attractive than the rate of “nothing” now offered by the internet.

It may not happen, because it is in the interests of the richest cobos on the planet to resist this type of change, but the security of blockchains — and, in cryptic-crossword fashion, the word “security” here could be replaced by the word “trust,” which is what blockchains are ultimately built on — may allow something startlingly new: hosting sites that could collect money for the creators of content on them (instead of taking their content for free, making millions from renting it out at a laughable discount and throwing a handful of spare change to the creators).

And the world would be a better place, one where artists and audience talk directly to one another.

And the fat middleman is eliminated.

For good.

BC Pires is a Luddite but he wants to be a Silicon Valley boy. Read more of his writing at www.BCPires.com

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