The Implications of Web3
August 5th, 2022

It hasn’t been easy. When I say “it”, “it” can mean many things. A lot of things, be they events, places, or people, have changed in recent years. We’re more distanced, both physically and digitally. There’s less institutional faith and goodwill. Doubt is both real and yet it is also an unhealthy obsession. When we consider the implication of optimism, sometimes it’s all too easy to write off as an incomplete, erroneous mindset.

Best get used to our way of life.
Best get used to our way of life.

However, one of the precedents to web3 is pervasive and agnostic. It turns out that gathering online and having overlapping interests yields some interesting stories. For a time, there was a sort of beloved clunkiness to chatrooms and LAN parties, a raison d'etre to have fun as a pseudonymous degenerate. That’s not exclusively within the bounds of web3, and yet it is 100% culturally compatible.

From my perspective, it is quite odd to see an urgency form in the corporate service provider space. A lot of the first principles within the World Wide Web were needed to get to the critical point where a gathered community could have consumer demand for a digital service or product. In the case of something like Google, they had a better slogan for the purpose of vibing (“Don’t be evil*”). Facebook was not initially monetized, and rightly so, because the phenomenon was the gathered community on a new forum. Advertising, SEO, sorting algorithms, blah, blah, blah. Success didn’t happen when these web2 siloes reached the point of cashing in, on the contrary success was the already achieved ideal getting sold. As the saying goes, “if the service is free, you are the product”.

Well, it is hard to argue that web3 is free. For as cheap as it was for early adopters, a lot of critics and experts alike have noted the overwhelming risk along the way. Web3 is free like torrenting copywrited movies is free. And here we get to the crux of the issue: what are the implications of web3 that you or I should feel optimistic about it? Take torrenting and TOR, as uncouth as they are. Torrenting was largely unsuccessful, from a “corporate” viewpoint. There were services, there were individual uploader brands, but it was such a legally forbidden model that the news was dominated by instances of “the boot” coming down on service providers. On the flipside, the RIAA, as eager as they’ve always been to suppress the distribution of copyrighted works, simply do not have the same influence as they did before Napster, even while web2 siloes like Spotify and Youtube dominate. And along the way, it was the freedom of the idea that spread, and many different services popped up along the way, each independent of the other.

The same can be said about the darknet. It started out darkly fun, and initially cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin were used to buy drugs. Of course, the boot came down hard again, and in these circumstances, it comes as no surprise that fun on the Internet becomes justifiably suppressible when it starts to inflict pain and suffering on others. Same idea as cyberbullying. But it’s not all black and white. In that gray space, where some users just wanted to have fun by themselves, among equals. One of the major groups on the darknet were reporters, and this is something that the World Wide Web has done exceptionally well; more information in public is more composable future.

As the saying goes:

  • “Who controls the present controls the past”
  • “Who controls the past controls the future”

I would guess that George Orwell would likely recoil from many trends in the modern world, but would he not have enjoyed a public with the excessive means to disseminate facts without the approval of society? I think he would see a powerful, democratic apparatus inherent in trends like the Streisand effect, coordinated mass protests, crowdfunding, and many other tools. It’s one thing to depict a despondent proletariat with none of these tools, and no choice but to succumb to some nihilistic status quo. Yet, in the digital society that has led web3, we’ve created a public square with unfettered free speech.

It is fair, at this point, to recognize why optimism in web3 can be misguided at times. When crowdfunding became popular, vaporware followed. When ICOs became popular, unregistered security offerings and obvious ponzi schemes followed. When custodial Bitcoin exchanges manifested, they were exploited and the unprepared public became the victim. So what’s the upside, if the neutral version of the technology can be abused at an industrial scale?

The implication of web3, for me, is that the backstop provided to the public, as well as 20/20 hindsight, is a tool that asymmetrically benefits the public over any sanctioned private institution. This is why it’s so entertaining to watch permissioned enterprise blockchain sort of follow along. The big, bright enterprise is a public blockchain like Ethereum, because it is a public community with new disruptive tools. That’s the real edge. The truth is, even though we are mired in exploits, grifts, and other unscrupulous behaviors, the benefits outweigh the risks. For every disaster, there is another epiphany. Web3, if it were a living organism, would be a mycelial network. Some renegade service provider like TPB, or the Silk Road, would be like wild grass. The institutions might be giant redwoods in some case. Take away private control, the approval of some sitting government, and imagine a massive forest fire. The trees are the first to go, and the last to come back. Grass might be easy to recover, but mycelial networks are barely touched.

Forget about the shiny casino. That’s just the first-order application of a worldwide computer that runs on money. It’s the easiest, most inevitable, product-market fit. Consider instead the massive novel demand for identity, and owning/purchasing things when one sees oneself as the extension of a collective. Consider the fun that we used to have when we could gather online with impunity. Consider the justice that the public can afford when any reporter, or any ethically concerned member of an institution, can anonymously broadcast the perpetration of a crime or a shady business practice. This is the lifeblood of the genuine web community. The web2 social networks are a superficial facsimile by comparison.

I’m inspired by the lows and the highs. As the late Robin Williams once said, “You'll have bad times, but it'll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren't paying attention to.” We’ve come so far in so little time, even as consumers of the modern internet. It’s all so infantile in the timeframe of historical, institutional society. Concepts like free speech, history, justice, and economics carry different weight, right now, because of what we accomplish, and they are going to be increasingly different when we cross many more milestones.

There was a time when the public had to wage a costly, incomplete campaign against the institutions and powerbrokers, failing to keep shape along the way. For every disruptive movement, there are mistakes along the way. The defining spirit, the zeitgeist, is harder to define and harder to corrupt. This is web3, a free, amorphous concept, full of unexplored avenues and forms. The public, full of independent builders, can diverge and converge as they see fit. It’s never been easier for the arc of human civilization to compel us to let the chips fall where they may. Web3 controls the present, so we the public can own the past. In doing so, those that embrace the true spirit of web3 will control how bright the future might be.

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