From Gutenberg to Blockchain, Part 1

Abraham George Macro Musings


Today’s piece has nothing to do with trading or investment ideas but intends to jog down the memory lane on the evolution of information transmission over the centuries.

As far as we know, for over 5000 years, the state and religious beliefs were very intertwined. For every major religious groups, there were a special sect or class who were considered scholarly and authoritative in their interpretation and enforcement of beliefs, practices of the faith. For the Jews, it was the Levites; for the Hindus, the Brahmins; for the Buddhists, the abbots, for Christians, it was the bishops and priests; and for the Muslims, it was the Imam and Mutawas.

The rulers, lords and chieftains sought advice from the religious class in maintaining law and order and in fostering social harmony. In some cases, they disagreed but in most situations, the administrative and religious machinery worked hand-in-glove. The subjects who ever dared to challenge this order faced harsh punishments such as imprisonment, banishment and even execution. The notion of a learned, scholarly class who were highly esteemed and sought after for their counsel existed in every society and culture. The peasant folk of that time were too illiterate, too powerless and dared not challenge the political, social, judicial and military order of the day.

Continental Europe which was the bedrock of western Christian thinking started to succumb to the pressure of independent thinking when Protestant Reformation inspired ideas started to emerge and spread. Many fled to the US to escape the inevitable persecution and oppression that ensued. More independent thinking started to develop in all walks of life.

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But much before that in 1450, the Gutenberg press invention started to affect the State and Church’s monopolistic hold on information and how it was shared to the world. Until then, the Church and people in power or education could read, write and spread whatever information they wanted. With the invention of the printing press, the democratization of information started to emerge. Since then, the biggest change in the distribution of information started with the introduction of the World Wide Web in the 1990’s. Google, Facebook, Netflix and Apple became the biggest contributors and catalysts for global information democratization. It didn’t matter if you were in Monaco or Mongolia, you had the same access to the same information if you were connected to the World Wide Web. If you suspected or doubted anyone’s claim, you could search on Google to authenticate its veracity.

Since the introduction of the Internet we have come a long way and we are slowly moving into Web 3. We are currently still in Web 2. So what’s this big change that has happened between the Gutenberg press and now? It is called Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) of which ‘blockchain’ is its first and most popular example. We will discuss about this great invention in the next two reports and how it will revolutionize our way of life.

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Abraham George is a seasoned investment manager with more than 40 years of experience in trading & investment and portfolio management spanning diverse environments like banks (HSBC, ADCB), sovereign wealth fund (ADIA), a royal family office and a hedge fund.