Briefly noted: On blockchains and Shakespeare

The cover of the October 31, 2015, edition of The Economist

The cover of the October 31, 2015, edition of The Economist

The current edition of The Economist contains both an editorial and a briefing on the subject of the blockchain technology that underlies Bitcoin, which is now being adapted for other uses and proposed for more. The basic idea of a blockchain is a ledger that’s distributed and relatively tamperproof. This means that a record of your ownership of something can’t easily be lost or tampered with, which can be very useful not only in finance but also in things like property records, as the opening example in the briefing illustrates. That doesn’t mean that bitcoins or other blockchain-based objects of value can’t be stolen. If somebody gets hold of my laptop, they can use the software that controls my Bitcoin “wallet” to transfer my money to themselves, just as somebody who gets hold of my real wallet can take out whatever cash it contains. But that’s not directly a problem with the system in either case. If you don’t know how blockchains work, or you do but want to know how they might be used, I suggest you read these two Economist pieces.

My only quibble is a matter of language. The word “bitcoin” refers to more than one thing. As a currency, it makes sense to leave it uncapped, just as we do with dollars and all other units of currency. But as a piece of software, and also the overall scheme by which it works and a foundation that’s involved in maintaining that scheme, I think it should be capitalized. The Bitcoin community itself handles the words in just this way, as you can see here, and MIT Technology Review uses them this way. The Economist doesn’t and even refers to the currency as though it were a mass noun like “gold.”

Meanwhile, on the Shakespeare front: Michael Feingold, who was for many years a theater critic for The Village Voice, is now contributing to the Theatermania website. He has weighed in on the question of modernizing Shakespeare in two posts, which you can find here and here. I discovered them a few days ago and haven’t read them yet; I recommend them because anything Feingold says on theatrical subjects deserves consideration.


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