Finished reading: Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain by David Gerard 📚

· 478 words · 3 minute read

This is a breezy read characterizable more by how fun its barbed skepticism is than any technical insight you’re going to gain, but I enjoyed the early overview of the cultural confluence embodied by cryptocurrency. In a late chapter, where Gerard provides a survey of current (ca. 2017) blockchain implementations, I was reminded of how timeless tech hype is. If you’re very familiar with the blockchain and the hype surrounding it, then in some ways this is a good book for using your familiarity to sharpen your ability to detect tech hype elsehwere.

And if you’re the sort who has to periodically take a deep breath and tuck down a particular kind of feeling with a particular kind of tech person, you’ll feel like you’ve made a new friend:

Computer programmers are highly susceptible to the just world fallacy (that their economic good fortune is the product of virtue rather than circumstance) and the fallacy of transferable expertise (that being competent in one field means they’re competent in others). Silicon Valley has always been a cross of the hippie counterculture and Ayn Rand-based libertarianism (this cross being termed the “Californian ideology”).

“Cyberlibertarianism” is the academic term for the early Internet strain of this ideology. Technological expertise is presumed to trump all other forms of expertise, e.g., economics or finance, let alone softer sciences. “I don’t understand it, but it must be simple” is the order of the day.

The book’s skepticism ends up being a strength and a weakness.

It’s a strength, because the technology is old enough that the world seems divided into the people you’d trust to explain it to you (who have moved on from explaining why you should avoid it), the people you should not trust to explain it to you (because they may well be stuck with a metaphorical garage full of Amway crates), and the people who cannot explain it to you but heard that you can get a lot of money for a picture of a monkey.

It’s a weakness, because it’s a relatively old book as these things go; so while the cultural skepticism aimed at gold bugs and crank economics in general may be timeless, the implementation survey is not. It’s hard to generalize claims made against specific use cases in 2017 to analyze whatever is going on in 2022 (though it was funny to put the book down, turn to Twitter, and see that the first tweet in my timeline was about a bunch of people being scammed in the sort of manner the book warns about).

My gut tells me this is a good first read, the same way an article about the dangers of ARMs would have been a good read before buying your first house ca. 2006, but probably should not be your only read.

Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain by David Gerard 📚