Protected: How to decentralize – Part II

The full article was originally published on IOTA Untangled. Read the full article here.

Is it possible to have distributed networks with the convenience of centralized services? Especially when centralized services seem the most practical option? Think of Google, WhatsApp and Facebook, but also institutions like banks and governments. Despite all the data leaks, micro-targeting, surveillance, and privacy intrusions, these services are pretty damn convenient to use. And they’re also easy in case you accidentally lose access. Right?

This is the second part in a 3 part series about decentralization. Read Why Decentralization – Part 1 if you haven’t already.

In an increasingly complex world, it is understandable to want comfort, and in return give up some control for that. But currently the balance is heavily skewed towards centralized monopolies. This reduces our freedom, and with it our autonomy. Autonomy is the capacity to make an informed, uncoerced decision.1 But more importantly, it reduces our ability to deal with unexpected changes. In this post we’re going to explore a model that can help correct that balance.

What to decentralize?

Decentralization sometimes seems like a quest for ideological purity. One vaguely defined and likely unachievable single point of perfection. Instead I’d like to think of it as a movement away from the current trend of increasingly centralized monopolies and oligopolies. Think of it as a counterbalance to the dark side of globalization. Decentralization can help put human values back into the ongoing mechanization process.

Decentralization: a spectrum of options, ranging from perfectly distributed to fully centralized.

Seeing decentralization as a spectrum widens our perspective. It allows us to choose where we get the best balance of resilience and efficiency, varying with different use cases.

The soft side of decentralization

The current narrative on decentralization is mostly technology driven. This is understandable, to some degree. We don’t have the ability to decentralize trust in a secure, scalable way yet. Beyond that, neither is it the most important part. Yes, it is necessary for some ideas to work. But building it technically doesn’t mean it will be used, or even useful.
To me, decentralization is as much a psychological question as it is an engineering one. Engineers produce code to benefit humans. So for the technology to work, we need to make sure it addresses the humans’ need. And this is where the plot thickens.

A model for harmonic decentralization

As said earlier: autonomy is the capacity to make an informed, uncoerced decision. To reap the benefits of decentralization, we need a solid foundation to build this freedom on.

Below you see an intuitive model to determine what to decentralize. It follows Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The idea in short is that the lower parts should be more decentralized. That is, increasingly less dependent on people and events further away from us. This way we will have a safe base to explore from and return to, when hungry, hurt, separated from loved ones, or perceiving a threat.2 As we get higher in the pyramid, the need for decentralization is less. And the requirement for some form of centralization could actually increase.

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