The Post-Apocalyptic World of Roaches, Twinkies–and Bitcoin?

In the post-apocalyptic Pixar film Wall-E, the running gag throughout the movie is the idea that Twinkies and roaches are the last food and living things on Earth, respectively. Wall-E is an environmental remediation robot for whom the passage of several hundred years has allowed the development of self-awareness. Normally what one would consider a tremendous gift, self-awareness has only made Wall-E realize how lonely he is, and he seeks companionship where ever he can get it. The only problem is that the Earth is now a dead, waterless world. But fortunately there are still the roaches, one of whom Wall-E befriends. Several hundred years in harsh conditions have made roaches smarter too, and this roach follows Wall-E around like a pet dog. And what does Wall-E feed the roach? Twinkies of course.

The idea that Twinkies and roaches will survive the coming holocaust (nuclear or environmental) is one that flies right over the heads of Millennials and more recent generations. This is strictly a Baby Boomer concept, borne out of childhoods rife with Cold War-era nuclear drills of duck-and-cover under grade school desks and a pathological hatred for food preservatives. Then the Cold War ended and even Twinkies were no longer made for a time with the bankruptcy of their baker. No, instead of Twinkies and roaches, Millennials and their ilk envision a post-apocalyptic world with  Bitcoin.

Bitcoin? Why, yes. Bitcoin has become the logical endgame of the distributed computing revolution started by IBM with their PC in 1984 and the DARPAnet with packet networking in the 1960’s. The Bitcoin ledger is decentralized, with verifiable copies of itself all over the world. These days the blogosphere speculates loudly that the Bitcoin blockchain will survive just about everything, including nuclear holocaust. Take that, fiat currency!!

This sort of silliness seems to know no limit, even among some very smart software engineers. Bitcoin relies on the Internet, which is nothing more than a highly distributed packet network. But like the cardio-pulmonary system in a human, the Internet has some pretty important pieces without which the whole system comes crashing down. This is amply proven yearly (the most recent example was last November). Once a bottleneck is created, packets try to reroute around the problem, clogging bandwidth in a cascading set of failures while the rest of the network tries to pick up the load. The introduction of nuclear calamity would likely bring the entire network down for a whole host of reasons, along with virtually any other communication method. The idea that operators hidden in basements powered by generators, using suction cup modems and analog phones like the old DARPA scientists did is even more absurd.

My money, euphemistically speaking, is still on the roaches.

 

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