Mummy, What Was Life Like Without Bitcoin?

As I walked into a pharmacy in Lagos, Nigeria, I overheard a young boy, no older than 11, asking his mother, “What was life like without money?” . I smiled, trying hard to hold myself back from responding for his mom. My response would have probably been grossly inappropriate and astonishing for his mother. I would have said, “Young man, that’s a good question but a better question is, what was life like without cryptocurrencies and the blockchain.” The young man had asked a very important question but little did he know that one day his child would ask him a similar question, “Daddy, what was life like without cryptocurrencies and the blockchain?”

I would like to imagine that this young lad will one day respond to his son with the same smile I had when I heard him ask his mother that intriguing question in the pharmacy. I like to hope that he will tell his son with a sparkle in his eyes that life without cryptocurrencies was like life without a computer. I’d like for him to tell his son of the millions and billions of lives that have been changed by cryptocurrencies and the blockchain. Indeed, I am certain that he will speak to his son of how Africa’s multiple economies were completely reshaped by blockchain technology. He will tell his son that the financial sector finally faced a revolution that changed the lives of millions of business men and women across the African continent. The cocoa farmer in Ivory Coast was finally able to get their deserved rewards for sustaining a billion dollar chocolate industry. The restaurant owner in Mount Kenya was able to make international transfers for her customers in neighbouring nations and continents. The mobile blood bank in Nigeria was able to significantly reduce wastage in its operations and ensure that international donors were confident in its provision of medical resources. I would like to imagine that this young lad will tell his son of how blockchain shaped the 54 nations of Africa.

The first time I learned about blockchain, I was a university student in London, trying to sell his PlayStation games for some extra cash. As I walked into game store on a bright summer afternoon, I noticed a flyer on the window, stating something along the lines of “We accept Bitcoin and pay you in bitcoin for your games”. I looked at this flyer, amused and intrigued. It didn’t seem strange to me but it was different. I love different but sadly, that day, I only traded my games for some pound sterling. Lord knows what I spent that money on but if I had a guess, it was probably some fast food. I highly doubt the fast food meal I spent my money on that week was as sweet as the record breaking bitcoin prices that would follow in years to come. 

From the lows of $0.003 to the highs of $20,000, bitcoin has filled every crevasse of imagination in the financial realms. Our very perception of currencies and our economies have been completely reshaped as a paradigm shift occurs in our global village. More and more economists are perplexed by the beating drums of the growing blockchain community. More and more financial institutions have begun to dance to the reverberating sounds of these drums. On a daily basis, news publications are spread about banks integrating their technologies with blockchain infrastructure. On a daily basis, the lives of thousands are shaped by their growing interaction with blockchain technology. A dear friend and research associate of mine once stated, once you get into rabbit hole of blockchain, you get deeper and deeper. The rabbit hole leads you deeper and deeper into a new world of innovation, wealth distribution, heightened trust, and increased transparency. The revolution is here. The revolution is near. The revolution will not only be televised. It will be lived. 

At its core, blockchain technology is a layer of the internet. Many have aptly described it as internet 2.0 due to its more efficient storage and transfer of information. This “Internet 2.0” was conceived by the infamous and equally mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto in 2007 and consequently released in 2008. The origins and identity of Satoshi Nakamoto are largely unknown. For a period, he shared his ideas with forums in an attempt to improve his idea-baby. Following the release of bitcoin and it’s increasing popularity, he slowly faded from the gaze of the public. It was almost like a heroic ending to a movie except, the movie has not ended. Some would say it has not even started yet. We have only watched the trailer. 

Bitcoin was built on the blockchain as a cryptographic solution to the transfer of digital assts. The blockchain allows for the creation of information and payments that are not duplicable in the digital world. A definition of blockchain can be better explained by an example. One can imagine a friend who is travelling overseas. On his fifth day of his travels, he calls, stating that he requires some money. Typically, the transfer to your friend requires the assistance of a third party to facilitate the transaction. The third party is usually depended on to establish trust between the transferor and transferee. While such third parties may be perceived as mitigators of risks in transfers of money, there are other risks to take into account. It only takes one fraudulent third party to intentionally or unintentionally compromise a transaction. Blockchain provides a system where a middle man is not required to facilitate a transaction. Transferring money involves an entry into a register. Blockchain allows for the entry into the register without a middle man. This in effect, reduces the costs of having a middle man and the risks of the information registered being an untrue reflection of facts. 

A simpler definition is that blockchain is a record of information made chronologically and publicly. Such information may contain details about financial transactions or other activities. It may be considered as a payment trail for those who use it for financial transactions. It may be considered as an audit trail for those who intend to partake in activities with minimal error in the statement of facts of the activities that are carried out. Information stored on the blockchain is verified by a complex mathematical process to ensure that it is correct and a true statement of facts. This minimises the chances of business transactions being compromised. 

Blockchain, the infrastructure of bitcoin, is here to stay. There is no doubt about this as more and more companies hurry to the promised land, in hopes of not being left behind. They know not what they use but they know it will change the world forever. This is blockchain. This is the revolution that my 11 year old friend at the pharmacy will live through. This is the revolution that 200 million African youths stand to benefit from. The soil of Africa will once again be rich with more certainty and hope of a destiny met. A destiny of integrity where it glows in the rays of sustainable achievement and human development.

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