Book on Blockchain Earns Mixed Review in the Wall Street Journal

Journalist:
May 31, 2016

A book called “Blockchain Revolution” about the workings and potential benefits of bitcoin and blockchain technology gained an extensive, though somewhat skeptical review in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal editorial page. The father and son team of Don and Alex Tapscott wrote the book.

The book review, titled “Bitcoin Is Just The Beginning” by reviewer Philip Delves Broughton, states at the outset that the book implies that the world should be cheering the emergence of blockchains.

After summarizing the workings of both blockchains and bitcoin, the reviewer notes that bitcoin is only one of many possible blockchain applications. He rattles off others, such as improving financial services, personal identity, business and personal contracts, and blockchains’ ability to facilitate the Internet of Things.

A Skeptical Take

After summarizing much of what cryptocurrency veterans already know about blockchains and bitcoin, Broughton gets into his skepticism. He points out that the Internet was originally intended to deliver the benefits that blockchain technology is offering.

“Wasn’t the Internet supposed to do all this? Be fast, secure and transparent? Bleach secrecy with sunlight, gorge us on information and banish sticky-fingered intermediaries?” Broughton writes. He notes that Internet advocates claimed artists would transact directly with audiences, money would move smoothly between accounts, and voting would take place online.

Broughton then reminds readers that after every technological revolution wave, a few billionaires profit at the expense of everyone else. He claims benefits of blockchain technology have not all materialized, and private entities have been able to use it in a closed manner.

“So, hooray for yet another technology promising jam for all, but beware the rustlers as they prepare to pounce,” Broughton writes.

He calls the book’s authors “blockchain boosters” and warns readers of “consultants bearing gifts.” He says readers need a more penetrating explanation of blockchain. Broughton ends the piece by saying a better explanation will come about if the authors’ predictions are “one zillionth” right.

Reviewer’s Logic Raises Question

Broughton’s review provides a concise summary of bitcoin and the blockchain for the layperson. But his skepticism struck this writer as peculiar. He introduces his doubts by observing that the Internet was supposed to do the things that blockchains can do, an objection that some are bound to question. Blockchain is an Internet technology, so the fact that it brings benefits the Internet promised does not undermine the harbingers of Internet technology.

Broughton has a problem with the authors encouraging the exploration of open platforms, trustless transactions, smart contracts, “ideagoras,” peer production, prosumers, uncensored content and more. The fact that the authors encourage such exploration earns them Broughton’s judgment as “consultants bearing gifts.”

Broughton does not explain how he thinks it is possible to advocate exploration in an honest manner.

Also read: Making block chain real ushers in a new era

Better Questions To Raise

A more insightful critique of a book that explores blockchain’s potential would be the questions that those schooled in the topic have already raised: the fact that blockchain technology requires above-average computer literacy, the lack of widespread access, the lack of support/customer care resources, the vulnerability to cyberattacks, the risks that privacy can bring to some transactions, and regulatory uncertainty.

The fact that books such as “Bitcoin Is Just The Beginning” are being written about blockchain and bitcoin reflect the growth of these technologies, a development that can address some of the challenges these technologies face.

Lester Coleman

Lester Coleman is a media relations consultant for the payments and automated retailing industries.