What the heck is "blockchain"? We found out for you...
I’m not going to lie. It’s really embarrassing. I’ve hidden this for years…
I technically run a tech company, and have no clue what “blockchain” is. The term crept into my life many moons ago. I learned to associate it with “cryptocurrency”, but disregarded it otherwise. Finally, in 2022, it became so frequent in conversations, and I personally was addressed to give my thoughts on the topic. I realized I was beyond the socially acceptable period of ignorance and sat down to figure out what “blockchain” is. So here it goes… this is everything I know about “blockchain”...
I know about bitcoin. I actually have invested in cryptocurrency for years. True to my typical “first adaptor” nature, I invested in crypto because the newness was exciting. I invested enough money I wouldn’t mind loosing completely, and have enjoyed trading it and watching it skyrocket in value. But I recognize most are more hesitant.
If you’re unfamiliar with cryptocurrency, I recommend catching up with the articles here and here. A quick background about this new form of currency is really important. But in short, cryptocurrencies forgo geographic boundaries. They’re currencies used and traded internationally, digitally. The risk is they aren’t secured by federal governments, and, well, you don’t necessarily know who you are “in business” with. The not-really-regulated form of currency is still someone a toddler in age. It’s beyond infancy, but still developing, forming. And the rules are still unclear. But Blockchain clears this up a lot.
So what is blockchain technology? It’s a way to record actions in a system. These actions of information are timestamped and grouped into “blocks”. They take pieces of each other, into the next. “Blocks” chained together create a tightly recorded “blockchain” of information that are essentially irreversible. So if you wanted to modify one block of records, you would have to retroactively alter all the subsequent blocks. This allows for systems like cryptocurrency transactions to be traced.
The best analogy I’ve read is from Builtin; “ A simple analogy for understanding blockchain technology is a Google Doc. When we create a document and share it with a group of people, the document is distributed instead of copied or transferred. This creates a decentralized distribution chain that gives everyone access to the document at the same time. No one is locked out awaiting changes from another party, while all modifications to the doc are being recorded in real-time, making changes completely transparent.”
This changes the cryptocurrency game. Blockchain technology allows crypto transactions (buying/selling) to be transparent and recorded. Blockchains make a documented record for cryptocurrency transactions. So instead of investing in digital currency feeling like the wild west, with no transaction or user accounted for, there is now a framework of protection.
Blockchain technology is now used in many other industries beyond cryptocurrency. In fact, over-the-counter pharmaceutical companies are now implementing blockchain technologies. If you take a picture and/or scan the QR or barcode on the back of the bottle, you will be given a history of information about that medicine. Whether it be temperature, location, or true authenticity. This can easily then be applied to logistics of all sorts of regulated products - food, energy distribution, even fashion clothing.
So in essence, blockchain technology bundles information into “blocks” and connects them, so each “block” holds information from the previous blocks of information, making it almost impossible to alter the information, and easier to record ample amounts of information. This can be applied to cryptocurrency for fundamental assurance between buyers and sellers, or it can be applied to all sorts of goods for transparency, and optimization of logistics.
Why the heck should we care? Blockchain technology allows our world to be, well, honest. It’s harder to create counterfeit products in these scenarios, easier to disclose product-oriented information, and adds confidence to the entire chain-of-command.
In short, “blockchain” isn’t an intimidating word or concept. And it's not a bulky chain-link necklace. (Not that we are suggesting we thought so...!) It’s in fact, technology that keeps clear, public records and ultimately keeps us safer.