When it first came digitally kicking and screaming into the world, the internet had endless possibilities at its bright-eyed, newborn fingertips.

There were high hopes for it to grow into a digital utopia where we could all live happily ever after away from the horrors and injustices of the real world. The idea was to create a network of individually owned servers and domains where everyone could chime in in equal measure.

In reality, those hopes remained just that – a hope. Instead, we wonderful humans – or, at least, a select few wonderful humans – saw it as an opportunity to squeeze as much value out of it for ourselves (or themselves).

They soon realized that we could lash a whole load of value onto what was supposed to be a neutral landscape by building centralized services where data could be collected and stored.

As a result, a handful of businesses quickly monopolized the internet before it even had the chance to blossom into the utopia it was supposed to be.

Flash forward to today, and people are starting to see the negative impacts of this centralized landscape. We’re growing increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that our personal data is being stored by a few companies and used at their will.

Enter the Decentralized Web – or, as some call it, Web 3.0. This refers to the emerging trend of creating services on the net that don’t rely on a single “central” organization to function.

What is Decentralization?

Let’s backtrack for a minute and dive into what decentralization actually means. Because, despite it becoming a buzzword in recent years – particularly in the new and heady world of cryptocurrency – not many people can pinpoint its original meaning.

To put it simply, decentralization refers to distributing services, things, or people away from one central location. So, instead of one central place having sole power over a service, it’s in fact spread out into the hands of many.

It’s still in its infancy in the online world, but there is one shining beacon on the horizon that has been burning brighter by the day, and that’s the argument that decentralization gives us greater control over our lives, both digitally and physically.

There are thought to be three kinds of decentralization:

  1. Architectural Decentralization – refers to how many physical computers a system is made up of.
  2. Political Decentralization – refers to how many individuals or organizations control those computers.
  3. Logical Decentralization – refers to whether the interface and data structures work as a “single monolithic object” or an “amorphous swarm”.

Blockchains tick two out of the three: they are politically decentralized – as in, no one singular party controls them, they are architecturally decentralized, because there is no infrastructural central point of failure, but they are logically centralized. This is because the system behaves like one single computer even though it might be spread across thousands.

The Benefits of Decentralization

The argument that decentralization will make us more independent is an interesting one, and to begin unpicking it we can start by looking at its key benefits.

Firstly, decentralized systems are much less likely to malfunction.

Why?

Because they rely on several different components that are unlikely to all give up at the same time.

And, when it comes to cyber-attacks, they appear to be much more difficult to penetrate. This is because they don’t have a sensitive central point that can be targeted. Instead, there’s a whole system that needs to be ambushed.

It’s also much harder for a singular group to act in a way that benefits themselves at the expense of others. Think about governments that regularly roll out programs that are beneficial to those in leadership roles but not to other citizens.

There’s also the hard-hitting fact that blockchains are actually more secure to build on because they are essentially owned and run by several different individuals or organizations. This means it’s nearly impossible to change the rules on a whim.

But how does this all play into making us more independent humans?

The 3 Areas Decentralization Will Make the Most Impact On

Data Privacy

Data privacy has caused an uproar in the last couple of years. Consumers are increasingly becoming more active in their internet-browsing roles and their eyes are being opened to the incredible amount of data collection and mining that goes on behind closed doors (or screens).

Decentralization essentially forces data privacy because the data is distributed across the network. Technologies are piled on top of them that make it impossible for unauthorized persons to access and use the data.

Data Portability

In the centralized world, users have limited access to their data and have little control over who shares it where. In a decentralized world, users have the power to choose who they share their data with.

On top of that, they remain in control of their vital information when they leave a service provider.

Data Security

Security breaches seem to be hitting the digital world harder than ever. With a centralized internet, we’re basically giving attackers one big honeypot to get stuck into. However, decentralized systems have been especially built to survive under extreme public scrutiny and, because servers aren’t all held in one place, they are less likely to be hacked.

More than ever, our burning desire for privacy and a safer online world means decentralization looks incredibly enticing.

Independence isn’t an easy thing to grab hold of, though, especially when we’re so used to the ebb and flow of the status quo. Take the automatic way we log into apps using our Facebook or Google accounts.

We don’t even think about it – anything to remove the added hassle of having to fill out yet another online form. Anything, including handing our precious personal data over to these sites. So, while it’s clear we don’t mind sharing some of our privacy, it has to be in exchange for convenience or instant gratification.

Decentralization is Making Us More Independent Offline, Too

So, while decentralization online is guiding us towards a landscape where we have power over our own data, offline it’s creating a new world that’s characterized by things like ride share apps and decentralized working.

Just look at the ever-growing gig economy that has essentially decentralized the way we work. In 2027, it’s thought that over half the US workforce will be freelancing, while the number of employees working from home has risen by 115% in the last 10 years.

Then there are much-loved services like Uber and Airbnb that are pushing their way to the front of the commercial world. Online marketplaces like eBay and Shopify have decentralized the way we buy things and are taking us away from the top-down structures of the past. Though they’re not completely decentralized yet, these types of companies act as a kind of stepping stone between the two extremes.

The result is this: consumers have more power and more options than ever before. And, when we have options we are automatically given the right to choose which, in the long run, encourages us to become more independent.