Ledgers of information shower us with examples from the past. The Bitcoin blockchain is no different. Indeed, it shares many parallels with both the printing press and the Babylonian cuneiform. When we study these artifacts, we can get a glimpse of what Bitcoin as an information technology will bring.
Invented in the 15th century, the printing press was an instrument which destroyed a long-held tradition of religious institutions housing so-called 'knowledge' of how one was to live. When the ledger technology of the printing press brought decentralization to the manufacturing of books, it raised literacy rates considerably within the proximate. It is estimated that by 1500 there were “fifteen to twenty million copies of 30,000 to 35,000 separate publications.” (McLuhan, 1962)
Babylonian cuneiform was used as a method by which to record information into clay tablets. These early writing styles first emerged around late 4th millennium B.C.E. during the Uruk IV period.
Both the printing press and Babylonian cuneiform are historical shining examples of technological advancement, and both had revolutionary roots in the way they made information accessible and record-able.
Bitcoin is fundamentally different. You can store more than imprints in clay tablets, and more than movable type pressed onto a sheet of paper. Essentially, a network such as the Bitcoin blockchain can be used to store any type of information which can be distilled down to bits and bytes. The economics of such however, are subject to many different technical factors, as there is not always a viable case to do so. It seems in most cases, a good bet is to make the network as efficient as possible, and in its current state, the Bitcoin blockchain is in no shape to perform a service such as large-scale services in payment systems and being a public dropbox.
Look for the introduction of sidechains and pegged-cryptography to allow such applications in the near future, however. As well, creations of entirely new blockchains with Eris Industries or the Ethereum platform may also fuel this trend. Bitcoin has no physical-world counterpart. It is native to the cyber-realm and does not respond to physical actors. Physical computers may be required for now, but collective hashing power and network intelligence is not. Because of this, bitcoin operates without borders, a beam of light shining its way through the darkness.
Is bitcoin dependent upon physical-world, so called "real" economies? Does the sun concern itself with the gravitational pull of the earth? The revolutionary roots of Bitcoin are buried in the ashes of history's ledger technologies.
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