A History Of Weirdness: From Websites To Apps, And Then To Smart Contracts

One of the benefits of sticking around in a certain niche is that, in time, you get a broader perspective. You somehow start to see things from a distance, and, apart from being able to identify potential trends easier, you even get to have a little bit of fun, while looking how everything comes together. Like, for instance, because I’m in the coding / programming niche for more than 30 years (started at 16, mind you), I can now see how this world evolved from websites, via mobile apps, up to using smart contracts.

Although they are already part of the common language, all these constructs are rather weird. No other construct like this was ever recorded in human history.

So, let’s talk about websites. Yes, this is the very thing that you’re using right now, when you read this. It’s so easy to get to it. Just a few taps and you can read / hear / see anything you want. Cool, right?

Well, these constructs need to rely on very specific infrastructure. I want to talk a little bit about that, because it will get interesting are we move along.

First of all, a website needs a domain name. Like dragosroua.com, obviously, or google.com, or whatever. These domains, in and by themselves, are empty. You can own a domain, but you may, or may not build a website at that address. That’s weird. It’s like you would buy, in the real world, an address somewhere, on a street, but you wouldn’t build a house there. People are doing this thing in the web universe all the time – it’s called “domain squatting”, or buying a domain in the hope that the mere name will appreciate in the future – yet in real life, they’re hardly doing it. They might buy land in some areas, but this type of speculation is very expensive, and way riskier than domain squatting.

Second, a website needs to sit on a physical machine, connected to the internet. This machine and its connection are managed by a third part entity. It’s a hosting company. Again, we are so accustomed to this kind of service, that we’re hardly ever noticing it. Except from when it’s not working, when we become mad.

As the niche evolved, we got from fixed computing machines to handhelds – broadly known as smartphones these days. The interesting thing with these handhelds is that they, too, store some complex algorithms, packed in distinct structures. We called these things “apps”, which is short from “applications”, which was the term we were using on much bigger machines. These apps also have names, and you download them (how weird is this word, anyway, did you ever think about it?) form some mega-websites, which are storing these apps for us. These apps are for entertaining (games), information (news), interaction (social media) or self-improvement (productivity apps like ZenTasktic, for instance).

These apps mega-websites (called, unsurprisingly, app stores) are way more opaque and expensive than the open web and they tend to enforce strict policies towards all participating actors: those submitting apps, as well as those consuming apps. Getting weirder and weirder, right?

And, in the last 5 years, a new type of beast appeared: the blockchain. And, with it, a new type of computing algorithms packed together in complex structures. I’m talking about “smart contracts”. Every time you are spending some types of crypto currencies, you are interacting with a smart contract. Every time you play a game on the blockchain, or buy some art (using the weird name NFT), you are interacting with a smart contract.

The weirdest part of a smart contract is that it’s unchangeable. It will always behave the same, provided the blockchain on which it resides will keep functioning. The blockchain data structure works in such a way that all the content already validated by the blockchain governance (whatever that may be) will never be changed. If you really think about it, this is very, very weird. Things change all the time around us. And yet, a smart contract will always be the same.

We got from a way to share and represent data among us – the website – to a proximity interaction harvesting attention – the mobile app – and now we’re pushing towards increased predictability – the smart contract.

I don’t know about you, but I find all these really weird. Its’ like we keep surrounding ourselves with layers upon layers of stories, images, virtual realities, all competing for our attention, while we strive towards a completely predictable existence.

Both are unsustainable, IMHO. Or, at least, both are offering unfulfillable promises.

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