This is an opinion editorial by Doc Sharp, a bitcoin product designer currently funded by Spiral to contribute to various Bitcoin FOSS projects.
It’s no sliver of truth to anyone who’s been around the digital asset space for a while that almost every project, barring the industry’s magnum opus bitcoin, manages to build effective PR to sell the its decentralized project in name only (DINO). This is no surprise, as the tens of billions raised over the past few years had to go somewhere, and it definitely wasn’t used to build innovative new technologies.
One area where bitcoin has come up short in the PR department, and the focus of this piece, is in framing how blocks are validated, colloquially called proof of work (PoW) or mining.
First of all, how does mining work?
Simply put, Bitcoin miners use PoW, which uses energy, to find a needle in a haystack. When they find the pin, they use it to create and add a new block to the Bitcoin blockchain. When this new block is added, the miner is rewarded with newly minted bitcoins. To date, this is the most decentralized means of achieving network consensus and creating valid blocks. Learn more about bitcoin mining here.
Bitcoin mining and the frame effect
In a world where capital is driven by criteria such as environmental, social and governance (ESG) scores, green narratives in the adoption of new technologies are increasingly important.
Knowing this, the perceived high energy costs of bitcoin mining and the very term mining, which is associated with environmental destruction, has become a barrier to bitcoin adoption and a red flag used by DINO projects to discredit bitcoin and pump their wallets.
Relatively speaking, however, the energy use of bitcoin mining is quite small and is mostly green. The reason people look past these realities is due to a cognitive bias known as the framing effect.
the term mining it comes with many negative connotations (see image below). With other digital assets available that promise bitcoin-like solutions 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 of this piece, but the “greener” solution’s Proof of Stake (PoS) is not a viable alternative and will inevitably lead to centralization. Although with the complexities underpinning both PoW and PoS, it’s not surprising that people make decisions for superficial reasons, such as naïve views about energy.
A psychological theory that underpins the framing effect is known as perspective theory explains why:
Most people don’t understand that the gain of PoW (More power usage, but decentralized) is greater than the loss of PoS (Less power usage, but centralized). Although it is easy to understand the loss from a purely environmental perspective.
This is compounded by the fact that most people today see climate change as a serious social problem and sensationalist pieces like “Bitcoin uses more electricity than many countries. How is that possible?” circulate regularly. This is how the framing effect manifests itself, as individuals are only shown the context of one of the framings (the environmental one).
So what can we do to overcome the framing effect and make people realize that bitcoin mining won’t boil the oceans and is actually a good use of energy? We could take a note out of the DINO playbook and leverage narratives that have less negative connotations associated with our benefit.
How could this apply to bitcoin mining? Well…
We 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. The energy usage of a centralized public cryptocurrency, however small, is 100% wasted because the network has failed. Bitcoiners know this, and that’s why they will do it never change code
So, back to the framing effect. The term validators has much more positive connotations towards it due to DINO’s marketing efforts, and is not as loaded of a term as mining. Fewer negative connotations mean people will perceive the term more positively. Avoiding the framing effect by using a more media-friendly term like validator will make it easier for people to understand that the gain of PoW (more power usage, but decentralized) is greater than the loss of PoS (less power usage, but centralized).
DINO has done all the work here changing the narrative to PoS > PoW. The least we can do is leverage this effort to our advantage, as they have used the bitcoin brand again and again to justify their Rube Goldberg machine.
So by calling bitcoin miners, bitcoin validators can prevent the framing effect from happening and shift the narrative towards PoS < PoW. Both Bitcoin and Ethereum using the same term also makes discussions contrasting the two less nuanced, making it easier for people to understand. It is also more of a technically correct and explicit term, since producing valid blocks is what miners (validators) do.
Here are the mining related terms we should change:
Bitcoin Mining Pools = Bitcoin Validator Pools
Bitcoin Miners = Bitcoin Validators
Bitcoin mining = Bitcoin validation
In short, reframing PoW mining to PoW validation will benefit bitcoin in the long run 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. The opinions expressed are entirely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.