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Paper critique: ‘The Birth of Crypto Place on the Blockchain’

This article was first published on Dr. Craig Wright’s blog, and we republished with permission from the author.

Zhao, B., & Huang, X. (2020). Encrypted monument: The birth of crypto place on the blockchain. Geoforum116, 149–152.

Zhao and Huang (2020) are junior professors in the department of geography at the University of Washington and at the School of Geography at Nanjing Normal University, China. As with earlier studies of distributed networks, including the internet (Lindsay, 2006), many changes in global demographic interactions can be attributed to network effects (Chen et al., 2019). In addition, Zhao researches human geography as it intersects with technology, looking at concepts such as location spoofing. Other papers by the same author include the integration of contact tracing systems with the migration of COVID-19 (Yu et al., 2022) and work on labor relations and automation and how they will transform capital allocation (Zhao, 2023).

On the other hand, Huang has published works on rural migration and urban demographics (Xie & Huang, 2022) and concepts including social inclusion and migrant assimilation (Zhou et al., 2022). The authors have each investigated demographic migration, the influence of pandemics on social movement, and the concepts of technology as it applies to the changing nature of social interaction globally. Zhao and Huang (2020, p. 149) coin the term “crypto place” to describe the integration of encrypted communications with payment technologies developed through a blockchain.

The paper explores the concepts of decentralized locations, immutable entries in a blockchain, and the development of a sense of space in an increasingly virtual world. The paper presents the memorializing of a whistleblower associated with the Covid pandemic that was written into the Ethereum blockchain with the change-like political society, noting that “a strong theoretical route in anarchism as a technologist-utopian move to resist or even rebel against sovereign powers of not only authoritarian states, but modern states in general and by extension, state-based multi-governmental bodies such as IMF” (Zhao & Huang, 2020, p. 149) provides an opportunity to develop a virtualized location outside of government oversight.

Zhao and Huang (2020, p. 151) investigate this as a legitimate place that consists of “three fundamental dimensions: the location, locales, and the sense of place,” creating a concept of a virtualized crypto space based on blockchain-initiated smart contracts. The paper presents an interesting series of concepts, and captures the changing nature of society as it integrates more within digital systems and electronic communication. Yet, as with many other writers documenting the growth of cyberspace (Lessig, 2000), the concept of geography being relegated to a flat world (Friedman, 2007) radically miscomprehended the nature of human interactions and the requirement that all people have a fixed geographic location.

In analyzing the isolated case of abstract information which is stored on a blockchain, the authors have failed to understand the nature of revolutionary comments or how the inclusion of comments such as those of graffiti is an enduring response that has encapsulated political discussion for thousands of years (Morstein-Marx, 2012). Unfortunately, as with many other authors, the researchers have misrepresented the underlying foundation of Bitcoin and blockchain technology. The representation is one of cypherpunk crypto-anarchist ideals. Yet, as the author of the Bitcoin system (Wright, 2008), it is possible to note that Bitcoin and blockchain technology as a whole failed to meet the promoted agenda of crypto anarchy (May, 1994).

Most importantly, the decentralized location fails to incorporate the idea of governments limiting access. While information can be stored and timestamped immutably in a blockchain, the Bitcoin white paper also included a section on data pruning, where information can be “discarded to save disk space” (Wright, 2008, p. 4). This aspect of Bitcoin and blockchain technology seems to be overlooked. Moreover, nodes need not serve transactions in a manner analogous to how information on web servers can be restricted geographically. As such, the inclusion of information does not necessitate the distribution at a later date.

While the paper is interesting, the authors have presumed the ability of all individuals to access files through time and space based on a premise of immutability that has been promoted without analysis. The other aspect of the paper that fails to analyze the technology correctly is a false determination that Bitcoin and related systems are encrypted. While Bitcoin uses digital signatures and hashing algorithms, no encryption is required. Here, the authors have considered information from media reports and assumed it to be correct. While there are interesting aspects to the paper, the flaws in describing the nature of the system undermine the work.

Chen, L., Shaheer, N., Yi, J., & Li, S. (2019). The international penetration of ibusiness firms: Network effects, liabilities of outsidership and country clout. Journal of International Business Studies50(2), 172–192.
Friedman, T. L. (2007). The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. Douglas and McIntyre (2013) Limited.
Lessig, L. (2000). Code is law. Harvard Magazine1, 2000.
Lindsay, J. (2006). Techniques in Human Geography. Routledge.
May, T. C. (1994). Crypto anarchy and virtual communities. Timothy C. May.
Morstein-Marx, R. (2012). Political graffiti in the Late Roman Republic: Hidden transcripts and common knowledge. Politische Kommunikation Und Öffentliche Meinung in Der Antiken Welt191, 217.
Wright, C. S. (2008). Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. SSRN Electronic Journal.
Xie, S., & Huang, X. (2022). Flowing sense of place: Perceptions of host city impacting on city attachment of rural-urban migrants in China. International Journal of Intercultural Relations88, 106–118. Scopus.
Yu, Y., Brady, D., & Zhao, B. (2022). Digital geographies of the bug: A case study of China’s contact tracing systems in the COVID-19. Geoforum137, 94–104.
Zhao, B. (2023). Emplacing the disposition toward automation. Dialogues in Human Geography, 204382062311514.
Zhao, B., & Huang, X. (2020). Encrypted monument: The birth of crypto place on the blockchain. Geoforum116, 149–152.
Zhou, C., Zhan, M., An, X., & Huang, X. (2022). Social Inclusion Concerning Migrants in Guangzhou City and the Spatial Differentiation. Sustainability (Switzerland)14(23). Scopus.

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