This is an opinion editorial by Doc Sharp, a bitcoin product designer who is currently funded by Spiral to contribute to various bitcoin FOSS projects.
It is not a truism for anyone who has been around the digital asset space for a while that almost all projects, except for the industry magnum opus bitcoin, succeed in building effective PR to sell their decentralized in name only (DINO) project. This is no surprise as the tens of billions raised in recent years had to go somewhere, and it definitely did not go to building new innovative technology.
One area that bitcoin has fallen short in the PR department, and the focus of this piece, is in the design of how blocks are validated, colloquially called proof-of-work (PoW) or mining.
First, how does mining work?
In a nutshell, bitcoin miners use PoW, which uses energy, to find a needle in a haystack. Once they find the pin, they use it to create and add a new block to Bitcoin’s blockchain. When this new block is added, the miner is rewarded with newly minted bitcoin. To date, this is the most decentralized means of achieving network consensus and creating valid blocks. More about bitcoin mining here.
Bitcoin mining and the frame effect
In a world where capital is governed by criteria such as environmental, social and governance scores (ESG), green narratives in the use of new technology are becoming increasingly important.
Knowing this, the perceived high energy costs of bitcoin mining and the very concept of mining, which is associated with environmental destruction, has become a barrier to bitcoin adoption and a red herring used by DINO projects to discredit bitcoin and pump their sacks.
Relatively speaking, the energy use of bitcoin mining is quite small and mostly green. The reason people overlook these realities is because of a cognitive bias known as the framing effect.
The term mining comes with many negative connotations (see image below). With other digital assets available that promise similar solutions to bitcoin with a much smaller environmental footprint, naive users will in many cases choose them over bitcoin due to the framing effect.
People think of this when they hear mining.
I won’t go into the details in this piece, but the “greener” proof-of-stake (PoS) solution is not a viable option and will inevitably lead to centralization. Even with the complexity underlying both PoW and PoS, it’s no surprise that people make choices for superficial reasons, such as naïve views of energy.
A psychological theory that underpins the framing effect is known as the prospect theory explains why:
Most people do not understand that the gain of PoW (More energy use, but decentralized) is greater than the loss of PoS (Less energy use, but centralized). Although it is easy to understand the loss from a purely environmental perspective.
This is reinforced by the fact that the majority of people today see climate change as a serious societal problem and sensational pieces such as “Bitcoin uses more electricity than many countries. How is that possible?” circulate regularly. This is how the framing effect manifests itself in that individuals are only shown the context of one of the frames (the environmental one).
So, what can we do to overcome the framing effect and make people realize that bitcoin mining is not going to boil the oceans and is actually a good use of energy? We can take a note from the DINO handbook and leverage narratives that have less negative connotations attached to them to our advantage.
How can this be applied to bitcoin mining? We will …
Let’s call Bitcoin Miners, Bitcoin Validators
With the Ethereum 2.0 merger, Ethereum has moved from mining with PoW, to using validators with PoS. Mining and miners as we know them will no longer exist on Ethereum, and claims of up to 99.5% reduction in energy usage have been cited.
These energy savings are a red herring as they come at the expense of decentralization. Decentralization is a fundamental first principle of cryptocurrencies, without it they are useless. A centralized public cryptocurrency’s energy usage, although small, is 100% wasted as the network has failed. Bitcoiners know this and that’s why they want to never change the code.
So back to the framing effect. The term validators has much more positive connotations compared to it due to DINO’s marketing efforts, and it is not as loaded a term as mining. Less negative connotations mean that people will perceive the term more positively. Avoiding the framing effect by using a more media-friendly term as a validator will make it easier for people to understand that the gain of PoW (More energy use, but decentralized) is greater than the loss of PoS (Less energy use, but centralized).
DINO has done all the work here by shifting the narrative to be PoS > PoW. The least we can do is leverage this effort to our advantage, as they have time and again used the bitcoin brand to justify their Rube Goldberg machine.
So, by calling bitcoin miners, bitcoin validators can prevent the framing effect from occurring and shift the narrative towards PoS < PoW. Both Bitcoin and Ethereum using the same term also make discussions that contrast the two less nuanced, making it easier for people to understand. It is also more of a technically correct and explicit term as producing valid blocks is what miners (validators) do.
Below are the mining-related terms we should change:
Bitcoin mining pools = Bitcoin validator pools
Bitcoin Miners = Bitcoin Validators
Bitcoin mining = Bitcoin validation
In summary, re-framing PoW mining to PoW validation will benefit bitcoin in the long term by preventing the framing effect from occurring, which is a cognitive bias where people decide on options based on whether the options are presented with positive or negative connotations.
Mining = negative connotations.
Validation = positive connotations (thanks Ethereum).
This is a guest post by Doc Sharp. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.