How to Explain Blockchain to Your Grandmother

How do you explain blockchain to your grandmother? Long story short: it depends on your grandmother.

If your grandma worked with Grace Hopper (who invented the code compiler in 1952), you better assume she has a handle on computer science and programming. If she’s someone like Radia Perlman (who invented the revolutionary Spanning Tree Protocol in the eighties and currently writes about blockchain for ;login:), she might have as much to explain to you as you have to explain to her. 

On the other hand, your grandma might not be entirely sure what “the Facebook” is all about and need help checking her email.

Fr8 Network recently interviewed blockchain leaders at Transparency18, a gathering of blockchain and tech leaders in the logistics industry. Though this crowd includes plenty of blockchain leaders, some of them many still blanched when asked to explain the technology to their grandma:

More than a few interviewees laughed nervously upon hearing the challenge – which, to be fair, might not have been the question they were expecting: “What kind of question is that?” laughed Andrew Mayfield of Freightwaves. “On the spot, no, I honestly can’t,” said Chris Lee with Logistical Labs. “This is so nerve-wracking,” said Shankhri Balaji with Fr8 Network.

“I haven’t tried explaining it to my grandmother in particular,” said Bettina Warburg of Animal Ventures, “but I might be doing that pretty soon.” Warburg is probably on the right track — as blockchain becomes mainstream, blockchain enthusiasts should be prepared to field more questions from family members.

Shankhri Balaji, Community Manager with Fr8 Network, took up the challenge after Transparency18 and sat down to explain blockchain to her grandma. Shankhri’s grandmother already understood the concept of cryptocurrency and even owned a small amount of Bitcoin, so Shankhri’s main challenge was explaining blockchain itself.

Shankhri explained that the internet, without blockchain, is kind of like a game of telephone:

“In ‘telephone’, the first player decides on a word or a phrase. They whisper it to the next player, and then that player whispers what they hear to the next, and on and on down the line. The phrase gradually mutates as it goes down on the line.”

After some back and forth, Shankhri’s grandmother was understanding; blockchain is a truthful source of information as it is passed down. An immutable game of telephone:

“It’s like a constitution, and if you have to change it, you have to make amendments. It is rather, a very solid status, rather than having it where so many people can change it unnecessarily. This is more solid and more firm. It’s the truth!”

Your grandma has seen a lot–and she’s probably going to grasp why you’re interested in blockchain quicker than you think. You might even have a second blockchain enthusiast in the family before long. It all starts with sitting down and talking to her!