Overhype is not Overrated
Blockchain might not ever live up to the hype, but that’s OK
Somewhere in the sea of blockchain overhype and bizarre crypto culture, there’s a technology that could actually do some interesting things (when applied in the appropriate context). I’m sharing my story because I think elements of it are important to share in the context of accessibility and tech education.
Growing up in Michigan, I had never even considered a career in tech. My only exposure to tech was a robotics class I took in the 7th grade. The class was mostly boys and many of them already knew how to use the programs we were learning to build, having done it at home years before. It’s not that I was turned off by the gender divide, in fact, I don’t think it bothered me at the time, it was just the way things were (and still are). All I knew was that tech wasn’t for me — it wouldn’t be my thing. I moved on, found other things I was passionate about, and ended up pursuing a degree in business.
My freshman year of college, I started to hear more about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. I didn’t understand it, but it seemed like a fad, so I didn’t pay it much attention — kids these days, doing weird things on the internet! Thinking back, it wasn’t my perception of crypto as a fad that kept me from exploring it further — it was the barriers to entry that just didn’t seem worth trying to climb in order to understand this weird criminal money that people were talking about.
At one point, I heard someone refer to Bitcoin as “internet money”. Even that phrase was intimidating because it meant that in order to understand it, I would need to understand 1) why the money I use to order something on Amazon isn’t the same as “internet money” and 2) what the Dark Web actually is and why this “internet money” is associated with it. The concept of the Dark Web wasn’t scary, it wasn’t that the idea of criminal money was what turned me away — it was just a world that was not at all easily accessible to me because I didn’t have even a basic understanding to build off of. I can’t pinpoint one single thing that made me think “not worth it”. It was the sum of all of these little things that made me think “yeah, I really just don’t care enough to dig in deep”.
Making tech sexy
When people (including myself) talk about education in the tech world, I think back to this moment in my life. I’m sure everyone has a different story but I think the sentiment here is at the core of how many people see this type of education — they don’t care. Not because they don’t care about the future of money or data security, or because they are heartless people who love centralized powers controlling their money. They don’t care because the sum of all of the small barriers outweigh their expected benefit of understanding blockchain (or any other emerging technology).
Journalists and the mainstream media understand this problem, that’s why they’ve tried to make blockchain sexy and interesting to the average reader. Headlines like:
How Blockchain Will End (world problem) for Good
Blockchain: the Technology that Could Save (dying industry)
These headlines irritate people in the industry who understand that blockchain won’t just solve the world’s problems. At the same time, it gets people excited and interested enough to begin learning that this technology is more interesting than Bitcoin and cryptocurrency.
Fast forward to the middle of my second semester, I was gearing up for a marketing internship in the summer, hoping I loved it (and marketing) as I tried to figure out exactly who I wanted to be professionally. As I was working through all of this, I came across Jeremy Epstein, who was talking about some of the interesting applications of blockchain that people were exploring at the time. Never had I heard someone talk so specifically about this technology without much mention of cryptocurrency. One of the pieces that stuck with me was his comparison of blockchain and the internet, which I hadn’t heard until then.
Yes, he hyped it up, but it was that moment that propelled me to where I am today. It was in that moment that I was sold, excited about the prospects of a new technology as revolutionary as the internet. It was not just the promise of a better and more equitable world, it was also the fact that the industry was still nascent, it felt very approachable, as if everyone was still learning — which meant I wasn’t alone.
I started to explore how blockchain was being used to solve all of these different problems in every industry imaginable. As I began to get a hold of “blockchain” as a concept, the phrase “internet money” suddenly became more interesting to me. Instead of seeing all the gaps in my knowledge as I tried to figure out how to connect the dots between internet and money, I began to understand the details— I started to see the problems that arose from the current structure and how the implementation of blockchain could help solve these problems. The key difference being that I understood blockchain, so I could then work backwards to figure out what the problem being solved actually was.
Is hype such a bad thing?
Without the promise, without the bit of overhype, I’m not sure I would’ve explored much more and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today, working on my own blockchain startup. It was the picture Jeremy painted of a better world built by blockchain technology that made me think this is where I belong. Today, of course, I understand that blockchain will not just magically fix our world, but I only have that understanding because I was sold on the dream and then I explored how it worked.
Most people I talk to believe that we should educate people about new technologies in the same way we did with the internet (which basically means don’t educate). The sentiment behind this philosophy is “put the tech in users’ hands and they don’t ever need to understand it”.
But what about people like me? I can’t seem to shake this idea that maybe if we keep working on educating, sharing, inspiring, and a sprinkle of overhyping, we’ll find more people emerging from the woodwork, excited about the potential for this technology and ready to help as we try to build something truly amazing.