“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains” J-J Rousseau.
As I finally sit down to capture my reflections on the much hyped technology Blockchain, I was quickly reminded of this line from my studies of Rousseau many years ago. This Guardian piece is a useful summary.
The current political situation in the UK has seen the removal of many of the rights we have come to take for granted: thanks to brexit and the seemingly unopposed claim due to covid that our elected Government (#notmygovt) should rightfully be able to impose authoritarian control unlike no previous time in history, Parliament has little say in the resulting legislation. So that is the context in which I reflect.
So what is Blockchain?
There’s a chapter in Martin Weller’s 25 Years of Ed Tech which captures the perplexing nature of this online, decentralised ledger and why it should have anything to offer in education. Weller neatly points us to the “so what” of this technical “solution” to a non existent problem. He draws a neat analogy with Alchemy.
I listened to David Kernohan discussing Blockchain in the Between the chapters podcast to get his take on the technology. Another voice I trust for clarity and no-nonsense insights. His concerns resonated with me. Blockchain is:
“like a massive google sheets in the sky that you can store information on, people can change it and people can see if it has been changed. (Re: Records of learning achievement) “but there’s lots of other technologies that could… retain (these records) and all of them rely on you trusting somebody or something…” (such as governments).
Blockchain would involve users trusting those who wrote the code. Something that is less than transparent to all. Would I trust such a system to manage my career or that of my children? NO.
Such a system could be a gatekeeping device which could easily be misused in the wrong hands.
Add to these expert voices (and thanks Gove but actually the pandemic has busted your attempt to moot that we no longer need experts, a global pandemic has increased our reliance upon expertise), the associations around Blockchain:
- It is the underlying technology for cryptocurrencies with all their connections to crime and unsavoury activity
- It is environmentally damaging, requiring huge computing power and is yet to be proven as worthwhile in an educational context
- Look at those who profess to support it – disgraced former UK PM David Cameron who is responsible for the mess that is Brexit.
So I will be sounding a huge ed tech klaxon whenever I see or sniff Blockchain. Education must be about breaking chains, not forging more of them.