“Free” means you pay for it

Today, the internet has made many services “free” in appearance. For example, previously to search something, one had to buy a lot of books or travel to the library to study a lot of books. Today, all one needs to is to enter the search on an internet search engine. Voila! We have all the answers at our fingertips.

The amazing thing is that this process appears to be free! However, one needs to think a bit if this is really the case. From a basic arithmetic viewpoint, one needs to bring in income in order to pay for the expenses incurred in providing such a service to millions of people. The income in this case, comes from ads.

Search engines (and social media services) collect information about users to build individual profiles. This is done so that ads can be tailored based on these profiles. Thus, online advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry which is being fueled by the activity of millions of people who use search engine and social media services. Thus, what appears to be “free” is in reality being paid for by the clicks and the attention span of each user.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how the advent of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies could change the online search and social media spaces. Cryptocurrencies offer a model of explicitly charging end users for using online search and social media services. This could occur in a seamless and automated manner as cryptocurrencies can be transferred from person-to-person and computer-to-computer without the intervention of third parties. Many users of online services could find this attractive because it offers some level of anonymity or pseudonymity. It will be interesting to see how this phenomenon unfolds as this technology develops.

Our imagination

Human beings have an ability which is quite amazing: imagination. We can imagine and see things which can, at some future point, lead to the creation of amazing and beautiful things. Of course, imagination has and can continue to lead to sad and destructive things too.

John Lennon sang:

No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

Such a vision can be imagined to be an ideal one for mankind. But one also needs to keep in mind some of the intrinsic tendencies in mankind to abuse liberties and bring about self-destructive tyrannies. Jefferson said:

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” – Thomas Jefferson

One of the several other ways imagination is put to use is in things like writing, drama and poetry. Five hundred years ago, Shakespeare asked his audience in the prologue of Henry V to put their imagination to use to visualize the Battle of Agincourt in all it’s might as if it were occurring on the stage itself.

And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder

When one thinks about all the amazing technology one sees in today’s world, it must be kept in mind that all these are the result of the imagination of someone or the other. It is quite staggering to think of how the millions of people over several millenia putting their imaginations to use to create the world as it exists today. Things like smartphones, electric self-driving cars, bullet trains, the internet have only been possible because of the lively imagination of several creative and savvy entrepreneurs and creators.

Below the web

The world wide web is what most people see when they use websites such as google and wikipedia. However, it should be noted that the web itself is built on top of the internet.

The internet consists of a number of protocols which define how machines talk to each other.

In this case, the machines could be the end devices such as computers and phones. They could also be the servers which serve the data requested by the end user. The machines could also be one of the millions of routing and switching devices which form the network connecting everything together.

Over the course of several decades, several protocols were developed which specified how each device would talk to each other within the network. The development of these protocols has been a combined effort of thousands of engineers, scientists and other network operators. They organize the IETF.

These underlying protocols are mostly invisible to most people who use the web. However, the web, which is the application layer on top of these protocols, itself has seen the maximum value creation in recent years. Companies like Google and Facebook have earned billions of dollars of revenue each year via advertising.

It is interesting to see how these networks could evolve in the future with the blockchain and bitcoin technologies which opens up the possibility of massive value creation at the protocol level itself.

Sit sit. Walk walk. Don’t wobble.

A zen saying goes like this:

Sit sit. Walk walk. Don’t wobble.

This refers to having a single-minded attitude in our pursuits. When sitting, we should just sit. When walking, we should just walk, and so on. This can mean, for example, being really present when one is with another person and not being distracted by smartphones or social media.

The Bhagavad Gita also has a verse about this topic (chapter 2 verse 41):

vyavasāyātmikā buddhir ekeha kuru-nandana
bahu-śhākhā hyanantāśh cha buddhayo ’vyavasāyinām

A rough translation is as follows:

O descendent of the Kurus, the intellect of those who are on this path is resolute, and their aim is one-pointed. But the intellect of those who are irresolute is many-branched.

This is referring to Krishna’s teaching about Buddhi Yoga, or yoga of the intellect. The advice being given here is to be resolute and single-minded in purpose when it comes to pursuing this yogic path.

In today’s social media and smartphone dominated world, it becomes hard for people to focus on single things. However forgoing focus on the thing we are looking into often means sacrificing having an edge. So, it really behooves one to not let go of the edge and try to cultivate a single minded approach to life.

We should see the gates by mornin’

When one truly understands the tremendous potential of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, and other so-called blockchain technologies, it is quite staggering.

However, at this relatively early stage, people find it quite hard to understand the concept of bitcoin. It is somewhat similar to back when the internet was young and the general public were beginning to grasp it. This 1995 segment from the Today Show illustrates how people were trying to wrap their heads around this new technology in the mid 1990s.

When thinking about what the people currently in this space in terms of their careers and/or businesses should be saying, I am reminded of these lines from Not To Touch The Earth, written by the poet-singer, Jim Morrison:

We should see the gates by mornin’
We should be inside the evenin’

In these lines, he is referring to his surreal journey into a rich and luxurious mansion on top of a hill.

In a similar fashion, I think the bitcoin communities consisting of networks of users, developers, speculators, miners etc, not to mention the various businesses being built on top of this technology, are on an almost surreal journey into changing the way the world works. This video with Naval Ravikant, for example, talks about the potential of this technology.

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Moving down from the cloud?

In the past few years, cloud computing has been the rage. It involves providing a lot of services from a centralized platform.

This could be almost seen as somewhat akin to how mainframes used to dominate in the early days of computing with their massive centralized computing power.

However, it appears that with the ongoing innovations in the IoT field, a wave of decentralization may take place in the field of computing similar to how PCs came to replace mainframes in popular usage.