my phone was stolen at Coachella and it opened my eyes to what was wrong with web2

Web2 Social Media was designed to kidnap our attention.

This reality was made crystal clear to me this past month after I had my phone stolen at Coachella.

The misplaced melancholy and fear that I felt after losing my phone as an extension of my self-worth is a sad metaphor for the unhappiness people feel on the current iteration of our internet.

Is the way that the consumer internet exists right now the way that things should be?

“Hey Jo, take a snap of us!”

“Oh sure, let me get my phone…”

I rifled through my fanny pack - nothing inside. 
No phone, no ID, no credit card - just a deflated and empty pouch.

I felt nauseous. Everything in my bag was gone.

“Jo, what’s the delay? Hurry up and take a photo, we’re all waiting!”

I snap back to reality as the strobe lights from Madeon pulsed in the background.

“I think my phone is stolen” I said sluggishly - still unconvinced this actually happened.

I began to feel paranoid and started watching people taking selfies and texting their friends. Was it one of them?

As I’m processing everything in real time, my friend offered to go home to figure out what to do next about my stolen phone and I acquiesced.

As we were walking,  my mind is racing -

  • How will I document my memories if I don’t have my phone?

  • What about the memories I’ve already documented? There’s no service at the festival grounds, the existing photos definitely haven’t been backed up yet - they’re probably all gone.

  • I’m such an idiot. I should have posted those photos on Instagram earlier…

As I was consumed with my own vanity, I glanced at my friend - she was on her phone checking into her flight back to San Francisco.


There’s almost an out of body transcendence as I recognized the situation I was in - here is my friend, who was only doing a half weekend at Coachella, ready to cut her already shortened festival experience even shorter to spend the rest of the evening in a cramped room with me figuring out what to do with my phone situation on opening night… and here I was - unhappy because I can’t post a photo on Instagram?

I stopped walking. Something clicked.

I’ve gotten previous feedback that I was always on my phone.

I’m an inbox zero kind of person- every ten minutes, I refresh all my channels (email, Whatsapp, Discord, Telegram, Wechat, Twitter, Slack, Instagram) to respond to any asks coming my way.

I’ve had friends constantly tell me - “Jo, you are a slave to your phone and social media. You really need to be more present!”

The irony.

Me leaving the first night of a music festival with a friend who has basically one night at said music festival that we both paid good money and spent a good amount of time figuring out logistics for to just go home to deal with my stolen phone would be the actual epitome of me being a slave to my phone.

“Let’s go back.” I said.


“Let’s go back.” I said with more conviction than I’ve had in a while.

It was almost like there was a greater power that orchestrated the disappearance of my phone to snap me out of my zombie-like fully-tethered social media consumed existence.

We went back to the festival that night and danced the night away - me more present than I’ve been in a long time.

I attended Coachella the next two days completely empty handed - literally untethered from any physical object and it was so liberating.

I had no way of knowing what other people were doing outside of my own life.

It was freeing and cathartic.

When I came back home, I didn’t even rush to get a new phone. I lived a whole week without my phone before finally getting a replacement.

The first thing I did when I got my new phone was delete Facebook, delete TikTok, and institute a five minute screen time cap on Instagram.

The current iteration of the consumer world wide web, or Web2, is an internet dominated by companies that provide services in exchange for our personal data.

But users have not benefited from their data being monitored and sold.

81% of Americans feel they have no control over the data companies collect about them and are concerned about how companies use their data.

In fairness, social media has been beneficial to society in that it allows us to connect in ways that just a few decades ago were unimaginable.

But they have also become a digital gateway drug- controlling and gamifying our lives to keep us increasingly unsatisfied.

Our current consumer internet encourages narcissism and distraction.

We spend a great part of our days in futile nostalgia, chasing after things we can’t have- scrolling an average 80 times throughout the day, adding up to some 40,000 twitchy phone checks every year.

In my case, many of those twitchy phone checks have come at completely inappropriate moments: distracted on a canal tour in beautiful Copenhagen, or not taking in a beautiful sunset in Maui, or responding to emails while hiking through Zion Canyon.

There was a war going on for my attention, and Twitter, Google, ByteDance and Meta were winning.

In Web2, all information related to my interactions with online content is stored by the provider.

I, as the consumer, don't have ownership of any of the personal data collected during an internet session.

Over the course of the past two decades of our internet evolving, power and money in the form of take-rates and ad revenue have accrued to the large internet platforms and not the users, creators, and contributors of these platforms.

The algorithms created by these internet behemoths are designed to keep us in an infinite unhappy loop - to compare, to feel jealous, to feel outcast.

Because if we were happy - we’d stop the money printing machine of ads being targeted at us.

We are the product. We are the monetization model.

So if Web2 is broken, then what’s next?

Over the past 18 months, there’s been an increasing movement to give control and data ownership back to the users.

Instead of relying on large tech platforms like Meta or Stripe or Airbnb to own all your data and broker your transactions (money, message, assets), Web3 builds on this idea that with the help of a native settlement layer in the form of tokens, the end-users (developers, designers, marketers, etc.) are incentivized to collaborate with one another to create ecosystems that mirrors the utility and functionality provided by Web2 platforms (to browse, buy, chat, build, work), but this time, owned by the decentralized users as opposed to the tech platforms.

Almost in full circle, we’re moving back to the early days of the world wide web where there was no monthly subscriptions, no commissions made by the hosting platform, or advertisements as a form of monetization.

I, as the user, should get to decide how decentralized apps collect and store my data.

I, as the user, should own my own API layer to the rest of the internet.

I, as the user, should get to control if I even want to sell my data, instead of large tech platforms collecting it for free.

It took me physically losing my phone to recognize just how unhappy I was on our current iteration of the consumer internet.

The anxious, agitated, and obsessive relationship I had with social media is at the heart of the conflicted feelings we all have toward ourselves, and why we need an intervention.

Is the way that the consumer internet exists right now the way that things should be?

That week where I didn’t have my phone was the first time that year that I felt in control of my own time, choices, and decisions.

There was no algorithm feeding me useless content to induce feelings of FOMO, unworthiness, and anxiety.

What if we could have that kind of freedom and control all the time…just without needing to live off the grid?

The German philosopher Arnold Gehlen used the term mängelwesen — or “deficiencies” — to articulate what he saw as the weaknesses of humans compared to other species.

Man’s fabled “consciousness”  is a substitute for our many physical and morphological inferiorities that other larger, faster, and stronger animals biologically have.

In order to survive, early man developed tools like social norms, culture, and technology.

Gehlen’s vision is a prophecy of a world where we are only as good as the technology at our disposal, lost on how to navigate life without it.

Today, we are at an inflection point where social norms, culture, and technology can be changed for the better.

Web3 is poised to advance data sovereignty and give control back to the end users.

If you want to chat product usability, design, or go-to-market for a better, fairer, and user-first internet, hit me up at or @joandthezhus on Twitter.

I’m always open to jam! 🍊

PS. I just won’t respond to you in 10 minutes like I used to, just FYI :P


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