Writing recently in Medium, Salvatore Iaconesi -- a designer, engineer and founder of Art is Open Source and Human Ecosystems -- offers an extremely important critique of the blockchain and other data-driven network technologies.
While recognizing that these systems have enormous potential for “radical innovation and transformation,” he astutely warns against their dangerous psychological and cultural effects. They transfer entire dimensions of perception, feeling, relationships, trust-building, and more -- both individually and collectively experienced -- into algorithmic calculations. The System becomes the new repository of such relational epiphenomena. And in the process, our very sense of our shared agency and intentionality, relationships, and a common fate begins to dissolve.
In their current incarnations, the blockchain and related network-based technologies start with the ontological presumption that everything can be broken apart into individual units of feeling and action. Our character, viewpoints, emotions, behaviors, are more are all translated into data-artifacts. This is the essential role of data, after all – to distill the world into manipulable, calculable units of presumably significant information.
Think that you are a whole human being? Forget it. Data systems are abstracting, fragmenting and filleting our identities into profiles that we don’t even control. A simulacrum of our "real identities" is being constructed to suit new business models, laying the foundation for what Iaconsi calls the "transactionalization of life." As he writes:
Everything is turning into a transaction: our relationships, emotions and expressions; our ways of producing, acquiring and transferring knowledge; communication; everything.
As soon as each of these things become the subject of a service, they become transactions: they become an atomic part of a procedure.
Because this is what a transaction is: an atom in a procedure, in an algorithm. This includes the fact that transactions are designed, according to a certain business, operational, strategic, marketing model.
This means that when our relationships, emotions, expressions, knowledge, communication and everything become transactions, they also become atoms of those business models whose forms, allowances, degrees of freedoms and liberty are established by those models.
"Everything, including our relations and emotions, progressively becomes transactionalized/financialized, and the blockchain represent an apex of this tendency. This is already becoming a problem for informality, for the possibility of transgression, for the normation and normalization of conflicts and, thus, in prospect, for our liberties and fundamental rights, and for our possibility to perceive them (because we are talking about psychological effects)," according to Iaconsi.