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Facebook’s Libra In Two Tortured Analogies

At the start of Season Four of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Jean-Luc Picard returned home to his family vineyard on Earth to recover from his assimilation by the Borg. While enjoying one of the vineyard’s own vintages over dinner, Picard’s resentful brother remarked that the former’s spacefaring years spent drinking the artificial “synthehol” dulled his formerly discerning palate.

“On the contrary,” Picard countered. “I think that synthehol heightens one’s appreciation for the genuine article.”

The very same week of this episode’s airdate, Billboard’s Top 40 featured four bands — Bon Jovi, Poison, Slaughter, and Warrant — that the enthusiast and popular press would refer to as “metal.” Though heavily guitar-driven, their output nevertheless evoked Journey-meets-Loverboy with a decidedly glam fashion sense. Arguably, these bands served as a kind of gateway drug: Less than four years later, even with grunge ascendant, the heavy-as-a-neutron-star Far Beyond Driven from Pantera debuted at #1. (This, in all due humility, was my own teenage musical flight path. Fortunately, social media wasn’t a thing.)

This week, we find ourselves in a similar situation with Facebook’s Libra. It’s the near-beer of cryptocurrencies; the Winger t-shirt at the Slayer show. But it also might be what our industry needs.

For certain, it’s awfully easy for the crypto community to playfully poke Facebook in the ribs for its crypto efforts. After all, doing so risks little more than the kind of blue-checkmark online applause that both human dopamine systems and search-engine-crawling robots reward. I’ve certainly read a lot of such opinion pieces and tweets throughout the week. What many lack in creativity and insight, they certainly make up in finding new ways to say “nyah nyah nyah.” Then there are the ones that are surprisingly uncritical in a way that might indicate an attempt to stay on Facebook’s pre-briefing lists.

At Bloq, we’re not terribly doctrinaire when it comes to blockchain and cryptocurrency networks. Bump any one of us just hard enough and the mantra of “multi-chain, multi-token, multi-network” will spill out of our mouths soon afterward. I’m quite certain that Facebook’s Libra will bring more people into the cryptocurrency age, which I welcome. It may be a somewhat Disneyfied version — the difference between Disney’s Main Street USA and an actual American “Main Street,” as Neal Stephenson would have it — but the rapid and broad exposure to the category is, at least for me, most important.

It’s not unreasonable to fear that Facebook behaving as Facebook will inevitably betray the values that our broader community holds. Privacy, censorship, governance, identity management — all of these Facebook has violated (and flagrantly) at one point or another. (I’ll also say on behalf of the Metronome team: becoming a Metronome validator certainly doesn’t cost $10 million and actually supports our community’s values in the most significant and innovative ways possible.)

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly welcome Facebook’s early forays into the cryptocurrency world without reservation. I do so even given the above transgressions and even if its overall approach makes its PayPal-alumni parentage maybe a bit too obvious. I encourage our community to welcome them and, in parallel, contribute to building the open alternatives that will be mature, tested, and available when — like Captain Picard and fifteen-year-old me — people crave “the genuine article.”

Phil Gomes is Bloq’s Chief Communications Marketing Officer. 

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