Blockchains are Roads, Wallets are Cars: a Crypto Mental Model
Alana Levin
January 23rd, 2022

Transportation provides an interesting mental model for thinking about components of crypto:

  • Blockchains are roads
  • Wallets are cars
  • Dapps are often the destination

Blockchains as roads

Some blockchains are more congested than others. Transactions per second, blockspace, and congestion remind me of car traffic. Some road systems deal with traffic better than others. Safety concerns might differ, tolls might be more expensive on one roadway vs. another, and not all cars may work well on all roads.

Wallets as cars

Wallets are how we move around in crypto. They live on various blockchains: Ethereum wallets like Metamask don’t work on Solana, while Solana’s Phantom wallet doesn’t work on Ethereum. In my mind, it’s pretty similar to how a city sedan may not function well on rough country terrain. Different roads require different vehicles, even though the underlying technology may share similar attributes (e.g., the cars could still look similar, share engine commonalities, etc.).

Dapps as destinations

Uniswap, OpenSea, Aave, Curve, Metaplex, and so on are examples of destinations. They’re built on specific blockchains, and users rely on wallets to engage (i.e., to “get there”). Picking the right road to be on can be important — you want to make sure there’s sufficient throughput of users, but also want to be cognizant of avoiding traffic jams. Traffic jams frustrate users.

Consider junctures, which are destinations that sit at the intersection of multiple big roads: in a world where blockchains are roads and wallets are cars, junctures highlight why multichain bridges or applications might play an important role in the future. If a road is consistently congested and the tolls are expensive — and there are other options for getting to a similarly desirable destination — how long until users switch roads? Then again, if one road is consistently much safer than another, a slightly longer commute might be tolerable.

I find mental models useful for understanding new and complex concepts. This is especially true for crypto, where so many things feel simultaneously old yet new again. Having a familiar benchmark for how to think about these complex concepts helps to determine the new-again old from what’s truly new.

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