I’m in London for MozFest but I couldn’t resist sneaking away for Tate’s Blake respective. Blake has a special resonance for me; my middle name was choosen in his honor and and my childhood memories of pouring over reproductions of his illustrated manuscripts evoke that sense of mystery and depth that we lose as we become practical and well-adjusted adults.
Blake famously railed against the “dark Satanic mills” of the Industrial revolution, but more broadly against the instrumental reasoning that deadens the spirit, as epitomized by his painting of Newton, fixated on his sextant, mind encrusted with barnacles.
It was Newton’s visage, lost in his thoughts but curiously heroically muscled, that crystallized my discomfort with this focus on the decentralization as the solution to the Internet’s woes:
So much of what makes the Internet unhealthy and destructive is rooted its ability to amplify and weaponify these tendencies: the ability to breakdown, measure and quantify human desires and sentiment, engagement metrics and ROI, gamification, etc. are all manifestations of this instrumental logic – and the various blockchain cryptocurrencies and tokens are at the apex. Let’s break down all human activity into quantifiable pieces you can buy and sell! But don’t worry, it’s cool because its decentralized so everyone and anyone can (and, eventually, must) participate. We’re all be buyers and sellers in an infinite marketplace of the soul, all recorded on an indelible, non-repudiated Akashic record that any god or monster can consult. Thanks to the blockchain you can now sell your attention, privacy and opinions alongside more practical things like drugs, sex, and little bits of your hard drive.
Proponents of decentralized, blockchain solutions (rightly) points out that the same reductive tendencies that drives marginal costs down close to zero leads the current situation where a few giant corporations are the ones selling our attention and desires: “if it’s free, you’re the product”. So they’re fighting fire with fire… But is it really the only alternative that we have is to sell ourselves ourselves? What would Blake do?