Abstract: Staking and Other Forms of Mass-Network Collaboration

I am proposing to look at the Ethereum blockchain’s proposed shift to Proof of Stake — what is the timeframe and what are the obstacles to achieving this? This research will include a look at prospects for the Ethereum blockchain in general. What are the vulnerabilities associated with its ambition to be a world computer/EVM? The wider objective for my inquiry is a better understanding of the mass collaborative potential associated with blockchain technology.

A specific goal will be to evaluate the feasibility for 221A to run some kind of node. This could be participating in the Proof of Stake, Filecoin or MakerDAO networks, to cite a few examples. Underpinning my interest in this area of research are questions about what kind of cultural effects could ensue from the adoption of this technology? Broadly put, staking is a concept where users of a network are incentivized to properly maintain and not abuse it. How does this idea work in a more general sense, not just for a better internet, but when applied to concepts like stewardship, for instance? I have drafted this abstract free of the usual blockchain buzzwords, but I do think that web culture, when supplemented by an internet of value, holds out fascinating possibilities for better network effects and better emergent cultures. It’s the flipside of Surveillance Capitalism as it were and it can’t happen soon enough.

A key difference of the staking proposition is that participation is collectively managed across the internet. In other words, staking is similar to an organization having stock market investments as an aspect of their business plan. However, significantly, their active role extends beyond managing the investment to managing the asset that generates the income, in concert with other organizations. A common crypto talking point about the effects of blockchain is that decentralization “removes the middle man.” With staking we see what the idea of decentralization might actually mean in practice.

Staking as an organizing concept for Web3 is the stepping off point for Heather’s research. Staking as an idea can be summarized as: Users of the network, own the network. The Proof of Stake (PoS) protocol is contrasted to Proof of Work system that underpins much of the token-issuance of today’s blockchains, in which nodes on the network compete for blocks of coins. The PoS protocol offers a method of blockchain management that requires significantly less expenditure of network resources. Nodes stake coins (i.e., make a deposit of collateral) in exchange for the right to help manage the network and earn a portion of transaction fees from network activity (in proportion to amount staked). Considered as a general concept, staking has a number of potential effects:

  1. The self-interest of being a stakeholder on the network leads to better network stewardship.
  2. Blockchain fostered decentralization makes the network harder to attack (no single point of failure) increasing network security.
  3. Incentivization of stakeholders (money earning potential) leads to better behaviour online.

Beyond research into the terms, technical requirements and costs, and potential benefits of network staking, Heather’s research will specifically look at the following questions:

  1. To the extent that staking might be revenue generating, not clear that it is, what would it mean for an arts organization, like 221A, to run a node and stake online?
  2. As a nonprofit entity what are the terms under which an arts organization is a business?
  3. What are the security risks of staking as a defacto custody of your crypto assets?

Rosemary Heather is a art journalist, curator, and researcher with a specialization in Blockchain. She writes about art, the moving image and digital culture for numerous publications, artist monographs and related projects internationally. Recent interviews include Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, Anna Khachiyan, Chris Kraus, Kent Monkman, Ursula Johnson, Dynasty Handbag, Ken Lum, Kerry Tribe, Hito Steyerl, Phil Collins and Candice Breitz. She is a co-author of the collectively written novel Philip, Project Arts Centre, Dublin (2006). Exhibitions she has curated include: Screen and Decor (2013); Ron Giii: Hegel’s Salt Man (2006-2007); Serial Killers: Elements of Painting Multiplied by Six Artists (1999); and I beg to differ (1996). From 2003-2009, Rosemary Heather was the editor of C Magazine (Toronto). Since 2015, she has worked in the blockchain industry as a writer and researcher. Clients include: Wellpath.me (Brooklyn); BitBlox Technologies Inc. (Toronto); Pegasus Fintech (Toronto); Blockgeeks (Toronto); Bitcoin Magazine (Tennessee); Decentral (Toronto). An archive of her writing can be found at https://rosemheather.com/

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