An Optimist Considers the Future of the Internet.
No, this isn’t another NFT hype piece.
Unless you don’t use the Internet - not you because you opened this newsletter - it’s become virtually (ha) impossible to avoid talk of Web3. Discussion around cryptocurrency, NFTs, and blockchain technology is everywhere.
What scares me - as a ‘normal person’ - about Web3 and The Metaverse is the visual of an even more invasive Internet than the one we already have: more screens, less touch, more manipulation — a world where we increasingly lose sight of what it means to be human.
I also get a sense that too many of the people who are ‘all in’ on crypto and NFTs are not only very bad at explaining why, but that for many of them, investments in the space are essentially a Hail Mary pass at financial freedom and social klout. With income inequality reaching modern highs, ‘crypto’ can feel like the latest Ponzi scheme in a world where people are increasingly desperate and afraid of feeling more left behind than they already do.
Lastly Web3 touts ‘decentralization’ and ‘power for the people’, concepts that always sound sexy, but historically haven’t played out so well.
But… I promised ‘optimism’.
Let’s assume the Internet isn’t going away, and that it will evolve. Can the Internet actually change for the better?
Rather than focus on the not-unlikely dystopian future where ‘gamers’ control everything, I’ve found it useful to first consider the Internet we have today.
Today’s version of the web (Web2) revolves around content. Content attracts eyeballs which leads to clicks which begets transactions and ad dollars. Web2 sold the idea that we could all be creators. (To be fair, these networks revealed a lot of talented photographers and artists who otherwise may have never been discovered or never even discovered their own talent.) Yes, organic connection still occurs, but over time, the social Internet has grown less about connection and more about performance.
We basically turned everything aesthetic into ‘porn’ and then became servants to the ‘industry’.
… a little silly, but go along for a moment…
You’ve heard of ‘food porn’, but open Instagram and it’s obvious that we also have ‘interiors porn’, ‘travel porn’, ‘style porn’, ‘car porn’, ‘athletic/bikini body/fitness porn’, and plenty of ‘porn-porn’ (which, on Instagram, equates to Onlyfans bait).
We’re more aware than ever of people who have better homes, take better vacations, eat better food, and have better skincare routines.
This envy-based ecosystem works perfectly well until the consumers can no longer ‘get off on’ what Web 2 gives them. What once looked like ‘beautiful content’ is now 1) so clearly designed to sell us more stuff, and 2) turning boring or even sad.
Too many of us have caught onto what actually goes into ‘well produced’ content - to the point that even looking at it feels ‘cringey’ because it’s so clearly fake. It’s too easy to imagine the boyfriend taking forty photos of his girlfriend slowly walking in a prairie dress to get one ‘perfectly candid pic’.
Even those succeeding in this version of the internet are often in their own kind of prison. If influencers once seemed like undiscovered creatives, most of them look more like sad shells of people today. It’s hardly a secret: The more time you’re creating content, the less time you’re actually living.
We’ve lived under this pervasive Instagram influence for long enough that a lot of (most?) restaurants and hotels that opened in recent years have been designed based on how they will photograph, not how they feel to experience.
This bizarro inside-out design approach leaves us feeling the side effects of social media’s fakeness even in our real lives, and a lot of us are taking notice. I recently stayed at a resort in the Bahamas with a gorgeous outdoor bathtub that couldn’t be filled, then realized the bath existed to be posted, not bathed in.
If Web2 isn’t broken yet, it certainly looks to be breaking.
Naturally - after Web2 comes Web3. It would seem that many of those who are engaged in early Web 3 spaces are firm believers in ‘the culture’ and sense of community they are finding in them.
However, this doesn’t feel so unique. Early versions of most things are fun. New frontiers facilitate counter-culture, rebel spirit, excitement. Twitter and Instagram were far different a decade ago than they are today. The sense of community that exists in an early version of anything almost never lasts.
Beyond community, the dominant narrative has been about money, or the tokenization of assets and their ability to rapidly accrue value, which again makes me think that a lot of people are being lured in by the possibility of finding wealth quickly, no matter how risky or unlikely it actually is.
It’s not that no one is saying this, but I would argue that not enough people are flat out asking: What would it look like to have an Internet that actually enhanced our lives?
If much of the web as we know it has been designed to prey on the human brain’s vulnerabilities, what if the next iteration didn’t do that? What if the focus shifted from keeping people on their smart phones as long as possible to creating communities that make them put their phones down?
My curiosity lies in the ability for networks, brands, and organizations to translate digital connection into real-world experiences. It’s an interesting time for brands to not only focus on ‘what’ they make, but ‘how’ customers use their products. More than ever, there’s an opportunity to consider and touch a consumer’s total experience in a way that isn’t gimmicky. Brands have a chance to think beyond merchandise and to also consider niche social networks as well as events or activations with tangential businesses or groups that feel natural.
So often, it would seem that the technology already exists and the creativity lies in how it’s used, and to what end.
Whether or not NFTs and tokens need to be incorporated into everything remains to be seen. While I understand the core value propositions of NFTs, it’s not hard to imagine how their use could lead to yet another system of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ — because either you have money and connections to participate, or you don’t.
I recently purchased my first NFT to gain access to Ty Haney’s latest venture, Try Your Best (tyb.xyz), described as a ‘Web3 platform for brand insight’. As someone who has mulled over the idea of ‘smart focus groups’ for years, this concept caught my attention and it seemed worth the $250 token to gain firsthand insight into how this community is working.
While it’s too early to provide meaningful feedback, so far the conversations in the private chatrooms largely revolve around people looking for running buddies wherever they live, virtual running challenges, and general fandom for Ty. Right now it sort of feels like another Slack channel to check. But again - it’s early. I found it interesting that there was no vetting process to join the group other than one’s willingness to spend $250.
If there’s a consensus that we’re ready to ditch the ‘pimps’ (Big Tech) that currently track and commodify our every digital move, it’s worth more of us considering what we want out of the next iteration of the Internet because I wouldn’t trust ‘crypto bros’ alone.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about ‘Web 3’ is that the roads are still being paved.
Thanks for being here. Cheers.